The Obama Administration’s Transparency Crisis

U.S. President Obama answers questions during news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington

The federal government is bigger than ever, and also the most secretive in recent memory. President Obama famously promised his would be the most transparent administration in history, but federal agencies under his leadership are often black holes in terms of disclosure. I’ll be testifying to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee today, chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), on the Obama transparency crisis.

The secrecy at the federal level is pervasive. Judicial Watch has filed nearly 3,000 FOIA requests with the Obama administration and nearly 225 FOIA lawsuits in federal court. Most of these lawsuits are filed just to get a “yes or no” answer from the administration. Agencies have built administrative hurdles and stonewalled even the most basic FOIA requests. The Obama administration’s casual law-breaking when it comes to FOIA is a national disgrace and shows contempt for the American people’s right to know what their government is doing.

Transparency is about self-government. If we don’t know what the government is doing, how can we govern ourselves?

There is a way out. Judicial Watch shows that one citizen group, using the Freedom of Information Act and independent oversight, can help the American people bring their government under control, having obtained numerous, shocking documents that had been denied to Congress.

It was Judicial Watch that uncovered a declassified email showing it was the Obama White House that put out the lie that the Benghazi attack was “rooted in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy,” leading Speaker Boehner to appoint the Select Committee on Benghazi. Judicial Watch has since obtained numerous other Benghazi records which highlight the administration’s extensive cover-up.

It was Judicial Watch which forced out key info about lost and then “unlost” Lois Lerner emails and how President Obama was lying when he suggested his IRS scandal was the result of boneheaded decisions by low level bureaucrats in Ohio. The documents show the IRS hit on the Tea Party was run out of D.C. and included the Justice Department and FBI.

Of course, these revelations have been surpassed in the media by the Clinton email and financial scandals. Judicial Watch has at least 18 lawsuits, 10 of which are active in federal court, and about 160 Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, that could be affected by Mrs. Clinton and her staff’s use of secret email accounts to conduct official government business.

Most recently, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry to compel him, as an executive agency head, to fulfill his obligation under the Federal Records Act to obtain and provide Clinton’s emails to the American people.

FOIA is a straightforward tool that gives Judicial Watch, the media, and citizens access to the federal courts in order to ensure compliance with lawful records requests.  This is why we get documents that Congress can’t. Liberals running the media won’t do the hard work that our lawyers and investigators do — not because they don’t know how or don’t have the resources – but because independent investigative reporting has been subsumed by the politics of protecting Obama and his “progressivism.”

Truth fears no inquiry. Crafty, corrupt politicians realize that transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand. If the Obama administration truly had nothing to hide, it would not go to such extraordinary lengths to keep vital information from the public.

Renewed congressional interest in reforming FOIA is a positive sign. Reforms must be significant and provide more access to information to the American people. Additionally, Congress should apply the freedom of information concept to itself and the courts, which are both exempt from executive transparency laws.

Our Founders were keenly aware of the need for accountability and transparency in our government. James Madison wrote, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both.”

We can only hope that members of Congress today take Madison’s warning to heart. Today’s hearing is a start.

Tom Fitton is president of Judicial Watch, a constitutionally conservative, nonpartisan educational foundation that promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.


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