In what has been described as a “bizarre” hearing with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a number of journalists as well as Republican lawmakers decried the Obama Administration’s lack of transparency and plain old obfuscation when it comes to fulfilling Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Specifically, the complaints range from the amount of time the Obama Administration is taking to comply with requests, the number of lawsuits being filed that wastes resources of all sorts, and the overuse of privacy and national security as an acceptable reason to redact information.
The reporters told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of numerous instances where agencies needlessly delayed, denied or redacted Freedom of Information Act requests. The FOIA guarantees the public access to all government documents, subject only to nine exemptions such as for privacy, commercial privilege and national security.
The journalists also suggested that government employees who violate the FOIA law should be prosecuted. There are currently no consequences to bureaucrats who don’t abide by the statute that has been on the books since 1966.
As a group, the reporters and news related individuals sitting on a panel before Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and his committee were relatively diverse: former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson, Newsweek Finance Editor Leah Goodman, New York Times Assistant General Counsel David McCraw, and Vice investigative reporter Jason Leopold, hardly those who are politically aligned with Judicial Watch, the conservative government watchdog group, which files FOIA requests on a regular basis, and has had far more success than Congress at getting information out of the Obama Administration. (Judicial Watch’s president Tom Fitton testified himself on Tuesday.)
Chaffetz and company also had a number of Obama Administration officials before them and let loose with a list of their own complaints:
“The president has committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “But that’s not the case” in filling requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
Chaffetz cited examples of people waiting years for documents only to have their requests denied. In other cases, federal agencies blacked out information that was public elsewhere. One document produced by the Federal Communications Commission blacked out a news release already publicly released, Chaffetz said.
Essentially, because of the backlog of FOIA requests which has been steadily stacking up as each and every document is examined for national security implications, etc., the Obama Administration is stepping all over itself and keeping both the national media and Congress from having the information they need to do their jobs in keeping them accountable…even if the parties charged with this do a questionable job of it.
Sharyl Attkisson had some strong words to say about this including pointing out that there are never penalties handed out for violations of FOIA by the administration. While that may be true, and Chaffetz is correct that it does not matter who is in the White House, it is illegal to block access to what essentially is public information, if there was any doubt that the Obama Administration is arrogantly running out the clock on their time in the White House not caring who they step on in the process, this hearing and the statements by the participants should lay it to rest.
More information available at The Daily Signal