Report Finds FOIA Implemention Under Obama is “Almost as Mixed” as Under Bush

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Report indicates that governmental transparency gains may not be as large as promised by the President.

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The National Security Archive, a Washington, DC-based NGO that collects national security documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, yesterday released a report reviewing the Obama Administration’s first year of FOIA information. Despite the President’s sweeping pledges of transparency, including a directive that revoked the widely-criticized FOIA memo issued by Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft and that instead told agencies to create a “presumption of disclosure” under FOIA, the Archive reported that “the evidence of concrete changes in practice is almost as mixed as under the Ashcroft Memo.”

The Archive filed FOIA requests with 90 federal agencies in September, 2009, asking for detailed records on their implementation of FOIA. Many agencies either responded that they had no such records or failed to respond. Only four agencies showed clear increases in information releases to the public over the last year, whereas five were releasing less. And “18 of the 28 agencies that handle more than 90 percent of FOIA requests governmentwide had a mix of increased or decreased releases and withholding.”

The Archive noted that its findings were based on less than a year’s worth of FOIA processing. Also, each agency’s chief FOIA officer is slated to issue an annual report in March that may offer additional information on the Obama Administration’s progress in implementing its open government principles.