The Obama administration spent over $36 million on FOIA lawsuits to keep its files secret and granted less than a quarter of public requests for government files in its last year in office, according to a new transparency report by the Associated Press. Having entered the White House with promise to be “the most transparent administration in history”, the Obama administration instead set records for denying, delaying or obstructing requests for government records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the AP reported on Tuesday, citing analysis of data provided by the US government..
The DOJ spent $12 million on legal fees to keep its files from the public, followed by the Department of Homeland Security at $6.3 million and the Department of Defense at $4.8 million. The three departments received more than half of the total FOIA requests made in 2016. During Obama's final term in office, the number of FOIA lawsuits filed by news organizations increased drastically.
The Obama administration set many FOIA records last year, from the number of requests received which amounted to 788,769, to the massive amount spent on answering them - nearly half a billion, or $478 million to be exact. Obama's team of of FOIA-ists could populate a small town: there were 4,263 full-time FOIA employees across over 100 federal agencies, 142 people more than in 2015.
The Obama admin also broke its own 2015 record in telling citizens, journalists and others who made FOIA requests that they couldn’t find a single page of the requested files, AP reported, without however quantifying the number of such cases.
Finally, under Obama, the US government also set records for denying access to files, refusing to quickly process requests described as particularly newsworthy, and denying requests for waivers of copy and research fees. In 77% of the cases, people who asked for records in 2016 received partly or fully redacted files, compared to 65 percent in 2009.
The AP report comes during “Sunshine Week,” an event organized in March each year by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public on the importance of open government.
Under the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, individuals can request copies of federal records for a nominal cost, or free if they can not afford to pay. The government is obligated to hand them over, unless the disclosure could harm national security, violate personal privacy, or expose confidential decision-making, exemptions which authorities - and especially Obama - constantly abuse.
“I will hold myself as president to a new standard of openness,” Obama said upon assuming office in 2009. “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency. It wasn't and ironically, during the 2015 Sunshine Week, the White House exempted itself from the FOIA.
And so while in his first two months in office, the media has slammed Trump for everything from lying, to being hyperbolic, to engaging in all out war with the press, it is odd how little the media seemed to mind that Trump's predecessor spent billions in taxpayer funds to make sure the truth never makes it to the public domain.