At the dawn of his administration, President Obama opined: “A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.” Magical rays of white-hot sunlight emanated from his media-manufactured halo. And then bureaucratically engineered darkness settled over the land.
For three years, White House officials have rolled out countless executive orders and initiatives touting open government. Just this week, they unveiled plans to move federal archival records from a paper-based to an electronic system. But behind the scenes, Obama’s lawyers systematically have stymied public-information requests, carved out crater-sized disclosure loopholes, fought subpoenas on scandals from Fast and Furious to Solyndra, and made routine the holiday document dump.
The latest meeting of the Government Accountability and Transparency Board, attended by Vice President Joe Biden, was closed to the press two weeks ago.
The Justice Department stealthily attempted to sabotage the Freedom of Information Act last month with a regulation change that would have allowed federal agencies to legally and deliberately deceive the public about the existence of requested records. After a massive backlash, DOJ retreated and sheepishly admitted that the license-to-lie rule “falls short” of the Obama “commitment” to transparency. (Actually, it’s the perfect embodiment of the administration’s contempt.) The same DOJ, it should be noted, banned reporters from a FOIA training workshop in 2009.
In October, the Interior Department and Energy Department spurned attempts to gain information about the administration’s $1.2 billion loan guarantee to Democrat-connected solar company SunPower. The deal, championed by powerful Democratic congressman George Miller III, was approved hours before the program expired on Sept. 30. Miller took Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on a tour of the SunPower plant last year; Miller’s son is a lobbyist for SunPower. Conservative newspaper Human Events and the nonprofit legal watchdog group Judicial Watch have now filed several pending FOIA requests.
In September, State Department officials refused to go on record during a briefing on its new global government-transparency program. Earlier this spring, a ceremony to honor Obama’s commitment to openness was closed to the media — after which dutiful (sup)press secretary Jay Carney boasted that his boss “has demonstrated a commitment to transparency and openness that is greater than any administration has shown in the past.”
As evidence of this historic openness, Obama flacks point to farces like last week’s Thanksgiving-timed release of White House visitor logs — which even left-wing good-government activists have criticized for their incompleteness. As the Center for Public Integrity reported earlier this year, the logs (which disclosure advocates forced into the public eye by suing the government) “routinely omit or cloud key details about the identity of visitors, whom they met with and the nature of their visits. The logs even include the names of people who never showed up. These are critical gaps that raise doubts about the records’ historical accuracy and utility in helping the public understand White House operations, from social events to meetings on key policy debates.”