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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/9/16

Obama claimed to want transparency. His actions suggest the opposite

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Reprinted from The Guardian

New documents show that the executive branch actively opposed bipartisan legislation that would modernize freedom of information for the digital age
Touting transparency while working behind the scenes for its opposite.
Touting transparency while working behind the scenes for its opposite.
(Image by Photograph: Pete Souza/The White House)
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The Obama administration has taken a lot of well-deserved criticism over the years for claiming to be the most transparent presidency ever while actually being remarkably opaque, but they've now reached a new low: newly released documents show they aggressively lobbied Congress to kill bipartisan transparency reform that was based on the administration's own policy.

In a move open government advocates are calling "ludicrous," the administration "strongly opposed" the passage of bipartisan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reform behind closed doors in 2014. The bill was a modest and uncontroversial piece of legislation which attempted to modernize the law for the internet age and codify President Obama's 2009 memo directing federal agencies to adopt a "presumption of openness."

Through a FOIA lawsuit, the Freedom of the Press Foundation (the organization I work for) obtained a six-page talking points memo that the Justice Department distributed to House members protesting virtually every aspect of the proposed legislation in incredibly harsh language -- despite the fact that some of the provisions were based almost word-for-word on the Justice Department's own supposed policy (you can see a side-by-side comparison here).

Worse, Vice's Jason Leopold is also reporting that the administration is conducting similar lobbying efforts around this year's attempt to reform FOIA in time for the law's 50th anniversary this summer.

This is a shameful move by an administration that is constantly touting its open government and transparency bona fides despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

FOIA is the nation's most important transparency law, but ask any journalist and they will tell you the FOIA process is irrevocably broken. There are countless horror stories of reporters getting back info on FOIA requests five or seven years after they asked for it -- and those are the lucky ones who get a response at all (agencies are supposed to respond within 20 days). Often, the only way to get any information out of federal agencies is to file a lawsuit -- an action that takes time, effort and a lot of money that journalists or news organizations don't often have.

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Trevor Timm is a co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He is a writer, activist, and lawyer who specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. He has contributed to  The (more...)

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