Transparency Group: Obama Gets C- on FOIA Compliance

Pro-transparency organization Cause of Action has determined that President Barack Obama’s administration over the past year deserves no higher than a C minus for its compliance with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The group announced the new report with a new website it plans to use for "Grading the Government."

“For an administration that claims to be, ‘the most transparent administration in history,’ a grade of C-, coupled with the finding that nearly three quarters of the offices were unable to respond to our request within a 30 day window and therefore noncompliant with the law, signals that perhaps this administration is merely average at best,” Cause of Action wrote in a report released on Wednesday morning.

American taxpayers and citizens alike deserve a level of transparency that shows rather than tells the administration’s commitment to transparency, regardless of political persuasion. As we continue to evaluate agencies on their FOIA efficacy, we hope to see an increased demonstration of transparency—one that conforms to the vision set out by President Obama, "...In the face of doubt, openness prevails."

The organization sent FOIA request to 114 individual offices in 16 different federal government departments in April 2012. Thus far, 29 offices have not provided any documents whatsoever, while 26 offices took longer than 90 days to respond. Of the 86 offices that did provide documents, Cause of Action said the average response time for the Obama administration was 75 days--more than double what’s legally required of them under FOIA (30 days).

Each of the 16 departments was graded on a scale of 0 to 5 points. One point was given if the fees for document production were waived; another point was given if document redactions were “limited and appropriate.” Departments could earn anywhere from 0 to 3 more points based on the response time. 

A response within the legally required 30 days got a department 3 points; a response within 60 days got a department 2 points; and a response within 90 days got a department 1 point. A response outside 90 days earned a department no points. Those department point totals were then applied to a letter grade from A to F.

Only one department, the Department of Education, earned an “A.” The Departments of Commerce and Defense each got an “F.” There were three D minuses, three D’s, two C minuses, two C’s, a B minus, and two B’s.


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