By: Duke Staff
In his first days in office, President Barack Obama said his administration would be the most transparent in U.S. history.
He praised the Freedom of Information Act – which allows citizens and journalists to obtain public information from the government – as “the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open government.”
But in the eight years since, Obama has routinely ignored FOIA requests and even blocked efforts to strengthen the act. Instead, his administration has strengthened the disconnect between the government and the people of the United States; a travesty so disappointing that it makes the current circus-like presidential race even more important.
The Associated Press reported earlier in March that in the last fiscal year, the government failed to produce any documents requested under the FOIA a record 129,825 times – an increase of 55 percent. A recent FOIA lawsuit also uncovered that the Obama administration aggressively lobbied against FOIA reforms proposed in Congress.
This is the same administration that has criticized the news media several times, as recently as this past Monday, when Obama blasted the media for failing to hold the presidential candidates accountable.
How easy it is for Obama to say that after his administration has made it increasingly difficult to obtain simple information about the FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which both recorded the most rejected records requests in 2015.
Citizens and journalists alike should be outraged at the government’s blatant disregard for open information. The Freedom of Information Act, enacted in 1966, is a powerful tool to bring important issues to public attention. Information received through the FOIA keeps the government accountable, which is an essential facet of American democracy.
Some of the most important stories in journalism in the past few decades were written from simple FOIA requests. In 2005, a reporter from USA Today found that the Marine Corps had issued faulty armored vests, resulting in a mass recall that probably saved lives.
But under the Obama administration, there are several startling examples of FOIA neglect. ProPublica writer Michael Grabell said he waited more than seven years to get records from the Transportation Security Administration about air marshal misconduct. Former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie said in 2013 that Obama had the “most aggressive” approach toward the press since Richard Nixon.
So where does America go from here? If it falls in Donald J. Trump’s hands, the free flow of information will only be more restricted. He has pledged to strengthen libel laws against journalists, rather than the public’s ability to access records. And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has shown a callous disregard for the FOIA, especially in relation to her private email server.
It’s up to the citizens to demand more transparency from their government. Otherwise, America’s democracy could be threatened.