When president Obama took office he promised transparency and open government. The question at hand is “Where the Hell is It?”
I have the answer: Obama’s transparency is Where the Sun Don’t Shine.
President Obama has failed to deliver on few promises as miserably as his vow to create a more transparent and open government. Shortly after being sworn into office, he sent a memo to federal agencies promising, “We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.”
At the time, I was a staffer on the Senate Finance Committee for Republican Charles Grassley and couldn’t help but laugh. Regardless of who occupies the White House, I understand that power wants power. Scrutiny just gets in the way.
President Obama is no different. Whether it’s responding to Congress, media questions, or FOIA requests, this administration is no better than its predecessor. The big difference: Obama is a Democrat. And because he is a Democrat, he’s gotten a pass from many of the civil liberty and good-government groups who spent years watching President Bush’s every move like a hawk.
In March 2010, the Associated Press found that, under Obama, 17 major agencies were 50 percent more likely to deny FOIA requests than under Bush. The following year, the presidents of two journalism societies— Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Professional Journalists—called out President Obama for muzzling scientists in much the same way President Bush had. Last September, Bloomberg News tested Obama’s pledge by filing FOIA requests for the 2011 travel records of top officials at 57 agencies. Only about half responded. In fact, this president has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all prior administrations combined. And an analysis released Monday by the Associated Press found that the administration censored more FOIA requests on national security grounds last year than in any other year since President Obama took office.
One of the most glaring examples of Obama’s failure on transparency is his response to the “Fast and Furious” fiasco—the botched attempt by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to find Mexican drug lords by tracking guns smuggled from the United States into Mexico. The debacle came to light when ATF whistleblowers met with investigators working for Sen. Grassley. Grassley sent a letter to the Department of Justice demanding answers; not realizing Grassley already had documents that laid out the operation, officials at Justice responded with false and misleading information that violated federal law. When Grassley pressed the issue, the Justice Department retracted its initial response but refused to say anything more, which has resulted in multiple hearings and subpoenas.
The storyline is classic Washington: Whistleblowers run to Congress about bad behavior; Congress demands answers; the White House throws up a wall. But where is the outrage, especially from the very groups who are supposed to be holding the government accountable? It doesn’t exist.
The occasion is not yet ripe for many in Washington to admit that the Obama administration is no different from those who have come before it. But time will come when the cognitive dissonance between what Obama says and what he does will be too much.
Paul D. Thacker writing for Slate has a compelling story. I took a lengthy snip but there is much more to see. Inquiring minds will take a look.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock