In its final year, the Obama administration spent a record amount of money on legal costs defending its refusal to provide federal documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
According to an Associated Press analysis of new U.S. data, an all-time-high of $36.2 million was spent during Obama’s last year in office on the fight to keep the government’s information from the people. The report also revealed inadequate performance in other categories that measured government transparency.
The Obama administration also surpassed its previous years’ record for the number of times federal employees claimed to citizens, journalists, and others that, despite a thorough search, no files could be found to match those requested.
Additional records were set for the number of outright denials of access to files, refusals to quickly consider requests characterized as especially newsworthy, and the number of people required to pay for records despite their requests that search and copy fees be waived by the government.
The Obama administration initially declined to turn over all or parts of records in more than one-third of FOIA cases, reaching the highest rate in at least six years. When challenged about this practice, the government admitted that it had acted wrongly.
A litigation study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University revealed that the number of lawsuits filed by news organizations under the Freedom of Information Act increased significantly during the past four years, led by the New York Times, the Center for Public Integrity, and The Associated Press (AP).
On Monday, the AP settled its 2015 lawsuit against the State Department that sought information about Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. The settlement was reached at the AP’s request, and the news organization also received $150,546 from the State Department to cover a portion of its legal fees.
Three government departments accounted for over half of the FOIA requests to the government last year, incurring the $36.2 million in costs—the Justice Department accounted for $12 million, the Homeland Security Department for $6.3 million, and the Pentagon for $4.8 million.
In 2016, the Obama administration received a record 788,769 FOIA requests, spent an all-time-high of $478 million answering them, and employed 4,263 full-time FOIA workers across more than 100 federal departments and agencies.
Although Obama pledged that his was “the most transparent administration in history,” in its final year, people who asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of cases, about the same as in the previous year. In Obama’s first full year in office, only 65 percent of FOIA requests were fulfilled.
The FOIA law allows citizens and foreigners to compel the U.S. government to turn over copies of federal records for little or no cost. Anyone seeking information via the law is supposed to receive it unless disclosure would damage national security, violate personal privacy. or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making processes in certain areas.
H/T: The Washington Times
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