President Barack Obama’s “most transparent administration in history” lobbied against a bill to expand government openness, according to emails and talking points obtained by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) relied on a set of talking points in 2014 to combat legislation that would reform the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“The administration views [the bill] as an attempt to impose on the executive branch multiple administrative requirements concerning its internal management of FOIA administration, which are not appropriate for legislative intervention and would substantially increase costs and cause delays in FOIA processing,” according to the talking points.
The legislation would have required agencies to presume documents were releasable unless officials could specify how the records would cause “foreseeable harm.” Such a law would essentially codify a memo Obama signed his first day in office.
“It is not uncommon for subject matter experts to provide feedback on technical aspects of proposed legislation and potential unintended consequences,” DOJ spokeswoman Beverly Lumpkin told Vice News journalist Jason Leopold, who first reported Freedom of the Press Foundation’s documents.
DOJ’s claim is “ludicrous” and its opposition exposes “the lie that is the administration’s policy,” Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Anne Weismann told Vice News reporter Jason Leopold.
The Obama administration’s hypocrisy is underscored by an April 2009 memo that required all documents requested through FOIA that involved “White House equities” to be reviewed by White House officials.
The House and Senate each passed versions of the FOIA reform bill last session, but the legislation died before merging, The Hill reported. The House passed another version this year.
The reform would make more documents available online and would create an online portal to handle all FOIA requests, in addition to codifying the presumption of openness, which the DOJ would “strongly oppose,” documents show.
This isn’t the only time DOJ obstructed openness. The agency’s Office of Legal Counsel determined that certain circumstances allow DOJ to block documents from its inspector general, though the 1978 law that created the watchdog requires “all” records to be made available.
Additionally, journalists, including Leopold, recounted numerous instances where agencies obstructed their FOIA requests during a bizarre House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing where lawmakers interviewed reporters.
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