Just a little over a year ago today, President Obama declared, “This is the most transparent administration in history.”
But as it turns out, that depends on how you define transparency.
Obama continued, “Every visitor that comes into the White House is now part of the public record. Every law we pass and every rule we implement we put online for everyone to see.”
But what if the definition of transparency included information related to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, or more recently, inquiries into the IRS targeting conservative organizations?
When it comes to making that type of information readily available to the media, congressional investigators, and the American people, the Obama administration is less inclined toward transparency.
And it’s not just conservatives saying so.
According to an analysis by the Associated Press released this week, the number of government files that were censored or denied reached an all-time high in 2013.
In category after category—except for reducing numbers of old requests and a slight increase in how often it waived copying fees—the government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office.
The government most often cited national security as the reason for withholding information. But it also invoked a “deliberative process” exception, sometimes referred to as executive privilege, more than 81,000 times—another record. This designation means officials wanted to keep secret how decisions on the issue in question were made.
Even liberal Democrats like Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) are complaining:
I’m concerned the growing trend toward relying upon FOIA exemptions to withhold large swaths of government information is hindering the public’s right to know. It becomes too much of a temptation. If you screw up in government, just mark it top secret.
And considering that is exactly what many people suspect of the administration when it comes to Benghazi and the host of other scandals, it would seem President Obama would want to go out of his way to prove there is “not even a smidgen of corruption,” as he famously told Bill O’Reilly in his pre-Super Bowl interview.
There were more requests for government records last year than ever before (more than 700,000). Whether that is a sign that the public and the media increasingly mistrust the federal government isn’t clear. Either way, the administration that claims to be the most transparent ever is building a very poor track record.