Obama administration fails watchdog’s transparency test

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The Obama administration has come up short on one government watchdog’s test for transparency.

Cause of Action, a self-described government accountability organization, released a report examining federal agencies’ compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests, Wednesday.

As the group notes in their “Grading the Government” report, during his first month in office, President Obama laid out his goal to the heads of executive branch agencies to make his “the most transparent Administration in history.”

With Obama’s mission in mind the group set out to test the administration’s transparency — grading each agency on their responses to identical FIOAs — regarding spending on promotional items. The departments were graded on the amount of time it took to respond, the number of redactions in the responses and whether or not they granted the group a Public-Interest Purpose fee waiver.

The report found the average agency grade to be a “C-minus.”

According to Cause of Action, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Defense were among the worst FIOA responders, with each department receiving an “F” based on their grading system.

The Department of Education came out with with the lone “A.”

“What ‘Grading the Government’ shows is an inconsistency at best, and a failure at worst, by federal agencies in not just compliance with the President’s pledge for transparency, but compliance with basic FOIA protocol,” said Dan Epstein, Cause of Action executive director in a statement.

“Failure by these agencies to disclose documents is a failure in their service to the American taxpayers who fund them and rely on them to be accountable and transparent,” he added.

The 14 other agencies came out somewhere in the middle: The Department of Agriculture received a “C,” he Department of Energy got a “C-minus,” the Department of Health and Human Services received a “D,” the Department of Homeland Security got a “D-minus,” the Department of Housing and Urban Development received a “D-minus,” the Department of the Interior received a “B,” the Department of Justice got a “D,” the Labor Department got a “C-minus,” Department of State received a “C,” Department of Transportation got a “D,” the Department of the Treasury got a “D-minus,” the Department of Veterans Affairs received a “B-minus,” and the Environmental Protection Agency got a “B.”

As the organization notes, the report is not exhaustive as it only probed 16 departments however it contends that the research serves to confirm an earlier report offered by Bloomberg News.

“This report does not give a comprehensive picture of how the Federal Government handled its FOIA responsibilities in 2012 because it only examines performance on one request sent to 16 departments. It is a continuation of an earlier report by Bloomberg News, which found that 19 of 57 agencies failed to provide responses within the six-month timeframe,” the report reads. “Our findings largely confirm the Bloomberg report; we calculated a non-response rate of 25 percent (only slightly less than the 33 percent found by Bloomberg).”

Cause of Action noted that they have plans to continue to probe the openness of this administration.

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