President Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 on a promise to make his administration the most transparent administration ever, but a recent Bloomberg News survey found that 19 out of 20 cabinet-level agencies failed to obey the law to disclose the cost of travel by its top officials. In addition, just eight of the 57 federal agencies met the news organization’s request within the 20-day time period required by law.
This is yet another example of an Obama promise, as Daniel Metcalfe, the director of the Department of Justice’s office monitoring the government’s compliance with FOIA requests from 1981 to 2007, said, being more “talk the talk” than “walk the walk.”
According to Bloomberg News, its reporters designed the survey in part to “gauge the timeliness of the response, which Attorney General Eric Holder called ‘an essential component of transparency’” in a March 2009 memo.
By law, departments must respond to FOIA requests “within 20 working days, ask for a 10-day extension, or offer a timetable for the release of the information.” Bloomberg reporters filed the FOIA requests in June of 2012 seeking records concerning travel expenses of top officials from all of the departments for fiscal year 2011.
Top cabinet officials whose travel expenses were not disclosed include: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
“It’s ironic that the demands in the presidential campaign for Mitt Romney’s tax returns are unrelenting, but when it comes time to release the schedules for senior appointees there’s the same denial of access,” remarked Paul Light, a New York University professor who studies the federal bureaucracy.
According to Bloomberg’s record and study, agencies like the Government Services Administration, which spent over $800,000 on a taxpayer-funded Las Vegas junket in which administrators and officials bragged on video about how they wasted taxpayer dollars, “almost tripled its expenditures for conferences from 2005 to 2010.”
“Taxpayers paid $27.8 million for more than 200 overnight gatherings attended by at least 50 GSA employees over the five-year period,” according to the records.
Further, the report found the Obama administration has used more “exemptions to block the release of information.” In the first year of the Obama administration alone, there was a “50-percent jump” in exemptions from the last year of George W. Bush’s presidency.
Bloomberg News noted Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, Labor Hilda Solis, former Secretary of Commerce and Acting Secretary Gary Locke and Rebecca Black, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Jacob Lew, the former director of the Office and Management and Budget who is now White House Chief of Staff, eventually disclosed their travel expenses, but none met the 2o-day deadline.
Further, Eric Holder’s Justice Department, which monitors how agencies responds to FOIA requests, “has yet to release the travel details of top officials at three of its affiliated agencies: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy said the “crush of work” made it difficult for the department to respond to FOIA requests in a timely manner.
Obama admitted at a Univision forum that he has realized he could not “change Washington from the inside,” and on the issue of transparency, Obama has not been able to change Washington like he promised to do in 2008.