What is the US Government Hiding?
WASHINGTON - March 15, 2019
The Trump administration is the most opaque administration in American history.
At least such a conclusion is clear, given the large number of censored documents it has provided or not provided in response to at least 78% of last year’s requests within the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
In 2018, the US government spent about $41 million to pay for legal services, defending its decisions not to provide all the requested documents.
And on March 13, Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland said at the hearing in the Committee on Oversight and Reform that the Department of Justice which monitors compliance with the requirements of the FOIA considers these requests as "obstacles." Cummings argued that the Environmental Protection Agency deliberately ignored FOIA's requests.
The home office disclosed 58% less data than it did during the last year of the Obama administration, and Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt does not publish accurate information about his daily schedule on the Ministry's website, he said. Thus, according to the information on Bernhardt's open schedule, on September 22, 2017, he was to have a "meeting to discuss energy issues," Cummings said.
At the same time, there was no information on who was participating in the meeting. However, according to Cummings, if you study the data of the Ministry's visit logs, Bernhardt met with Jack Gerard, a former President and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, DC.
Delay On Delay
Melanie Ann Pustay, Director of the Office of Information Policy of the U.S. Department of Justice, told the Committee that in 2017, the federal government received about 820,000 requests under FOIA, 40,000 more than the record figure of 2016, as noted by Pustay, but this figure is constantly growing since 2009.
Rachel Spector, Acting Interior Deputy Chief FOIA Officer, told the Committee that since 2016 the total number of requests has increased by 30% and by 210% in the Minister’s office.
Timothy R. Epp, Acting Director, National FOIA Office at US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), noted the organization received 1,115 more requests under the FOIA in 2017 and 961 more requests in 2018 than in 2016, while 2,761 requests are under consideration.
Committee member Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, argued the Obama administration had "a number" of notable problems with the FOIA it "sought to comply with the law." A huge number of requests within the FOIA, faced by the Trump administration, is the result of activists' efforts against the current US administration, he added.
According to Jordan, the flow of customers is "paid by the [billionaire Democratic activist] Tom Steyers to harass the executive branch." Republican clay Higgins accused the "organized movement to obstruct and resist" the Trump administration.
"Americans I have spoken to look at FOIA as a legitimate tool that has perhaps been weaponized against our current executive," he said.
In fact, Pustay said, the number of requests under FOIA primarily can be explained by the increased interaction between government and citizens.
Under Barack Obama, not everything was perfect. In 2016, those who sent requests under the FOIA received censored documents or received nothing at all in 77% of cases. In the first full year of Obama's rule, this figure was 65%.
And, despite that the percentage under the Trump regime is almost no different, John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, believes the Trump administration "is clearly doing worse."
"Trump's refusal to release his personal tax returns, his hostility toward the press and the disappearance of information and resources pertaining to climate change, LGBTQ issues, and the Affordable Care Act from federal websites indicated a "general disdain for disclosure and the role the public plays in holding government accountable," Wonderlich said.
Nate Jones, FOIA director of the National Security Archive, a nonprofit run by George Washington University, said:
"The bad news is that the oldest request in government is almost 25 years old; backlogs continue to grow, and it's not rare for agencies to take more than a year to process requests. The good news is that at the hearing today it appears representatives have zeroed in on the reason for these failings."