On Jan. 21, 2009, the day after his inauguration, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act and directed federal agency heads to embrace transparency in their dealings with the public.
The president wrote, “All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.
“The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.”
Not only has the president failed to produce, as he promised, the most transparent administration in the country’s history, there’s new evidence the Obama administration has worked aggressively behind the scenes to thwart reforms aimed at improving the public’s ability to access government documents through FOIA requests.
Appropriately, the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation used FOIA requests to reveal the Obama administration opposed a House bill that would have codified into law the so-called transparency memorandum Obama signed immediately after taking office.
That’s right. The administration opposed using the president’s own words in a law to make the government more transparent to journalists, historians and others who rely on access to the government’s paper trail.
The Society of Professional Journalists shared a report about the findings of the Freedom of the Press Foundation in a social media post this week.
There’s no better time to take stock of the report. Sunday is the beginning of Sunshine Week, a national observance promoting open government and freedom of information.
Obama’s dismal record on open government has been known for several years. But now we also know his administration fought the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014. In addition to codifying Obama’s 2009 memo, the legislation sought a centralized online portal to process all FOIA requests.
Among the documents finally uncovered by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and by VICE News, the Department of Justice had a set of talking points to fight the legislation. The administration argued the reforms would create a FOIA backlog that would be very costly to process.
And yet, there’s nothing about those concerns in Obama’s public statements and in his memo about FOIA.
That’s quite a lesson in the importance of access to documents the government wants to hide from the public.
Happy Sunshine Week, everyone.
Kentucky New Era editorials are the consensus opinion of the editorial board, which includes Publisher Taylor W. Hayes, Opinion Editor Jennifer P. Brown and Editor Eli Pace.