'Most transparent' administration?

Published on Saturday, 9 August 2014 21:25 - Written by

It’s time for the Obama administration to live up to its pledge to be the “most transparent” presidential administration in history. A new letter signed by the government’s own top watchdogs shows that Obama’s lieutenants have been blocking access and stonewalling investigations.

“A group of 47 official federal agency watchdogs sent a rare joint letter to Congress on Tuesday complaining that management at some agencies has delayed or denied access to government records that the watchdogs believe they are legally entitled to see on demand,” reports Josh Gerstein for Politico. “In the letter to the bipartisan leadership of major committees across Capitol Hill, the inspectors general complain that the access issues have impeded investigations and threaten the ability of the fraud-waste-and-abuse hunters to do their work.”

The letter states, “Refusing, restricting, or delaying an Inspector General’s access to documents leads to incomplete, inaccurate, or significantly delayed findings or recommendations, which in turn may prevent the agency from promptly correcting serious problems and deprive Congress of timely information regarding the agency’s performance.”

The stonewalling is more than merely frustrating, the inspectors write.

“These restrictive readings of the IG Act represent potentially serious challenges to the authority of every Inspector General and our ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner,” the IGs contend. “Even when we are ultimately able to resolve these issues with senior agency leadership, the process is often lengthy, delays our work, and diverts time and attention from substantive oversight activities. This plainly is not what Congress intended when it passed the IG Act.”

In fact, the Act was passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal, when another administration viewed all oversight attempts as political.

But that view is unacceptable, particularly in the Obama administration. As recently as July 13, the administration was standing by its claim to be the “most transparent” in history.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said he “absolutely, absolutely” believes that, and added “I have a responsibility in this job to try to help the president live up to his commitment to be the most transparent president in history.”

Independent agency findings, however, show just how controlling and oblique the administration is.

“The Obama administration more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press,” the AP agency found in March. “The administration cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy. Most agencies also took longer to answer records requests, the analysis found.”

Why is transparency important? Because transparency is, in fact, the most effective means of keeping government power in check.

As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandais famously said, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

We must demand better from the Obama administration.