An analysis by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and OpenTheGovernment.org of data collected by the government on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) processing reveals challenges the Obama Administration must overcome to create the "unprecedented level of openness" President Obama promised on his first day in office.
The analysis compares data from agencies’ annual FOIA reports for 2010, the first full year of data under the Obama Administration, and 2008, the last full year of data under the Bush Administration. As chronicled in the report, Measuring Transparency Under the FOIA: The Real Story Behind the Numbers, federal agencies did respond to the Obama Administration’s emphasis on open government by generally processing more requests more quickly. On the other hand, and in stark contrast to President Obama’s directive that agencies should work under the presumption that information should be released, the analysis shows agencies increased their reliance on the FOIA’s nine exemptions to withhold more information from the public.
In the process of developing the report, CREW and OpenTheGovernment.org uncovered a shocking number of problems with the quality of the government’s FOIA data, and with the "public dashboard" set up by the Department of Justice, FOIA.gov, to allow the public to easily view the data and hold agencies accountable for how well – or poorly- they met their obligations to answer public requests for information. The problems call into question the utility of FOIA.gov and the ability of the public, the Administration, and Congress to provide oversight of the system.
According to Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, “Effective oversight of the government’s efforts to respond to FOIA requests is critical to making it easier for the public to access government information. This is only possible with valid, reliable and complete data.”
See CREW’s press release here.
Download the report here.