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Obama Administration Withholds FoIA Requests More Often Than Bush's 601

Posted by timothy
from the no-conspiracy-necessary-note dept.
bonch writes "Agencies under the Obama administration cite security provisions to withhold information more often than they did under the Bush administration. For example, the 'deliberative process' exemption of the Freedom of Information Act was used 70,779 times in 2009, up from the 47,395 of 2008. Amusingly, the Associated Press has been waiting three months for the government to deliver records on its own Open Government Directive."
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Obama Administration Withholds FoIA Requests More Often Than Bush's

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  • Biased much? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NiceGeek (126629)

    Breitbart.com? Really? Has Slashdot become Free Republic?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And which progressive and left-oriented site WOULD write about this, on the condition that it was true?

      Because you DO realise that the only difference between your system of fairness and totalitarian-fascism is the premise that leftwing sites would write about everything that was true and relevant, so that you can legitimately reject everything on other sites as biased?

      • Re:Biased much? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by shutdown -p now (807394) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @03:44PM (#31527244) Journal

        And which progressive and left-oriented site WOULD write about this, on the condition that it was true?

        An honest one.

      • Re:Biased much? (Score:5, Informative)

        by beakerMeep (716990) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @03:59PM (#31527584)
        For whatever it's worth HuffPo posted the AP article.
      • You'd be surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

        by twoallbeefpatties (615632) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:11PM (#31527830)
        Watch a little Rachel Maddow, read a little of the HuffPo, you'll be surprised just how many times liberal sources DO report on stuff like this. The liberal blogosphere is kinda pissed that Obama isn't the far-left bleeding-hear socialist that conservatives make him out to be, and they call him out on it quite a bit.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by introspekt.i (1233118)
      It's an interesting topic if the numbers are correct. It warrants some explanation at the least. Perhaps insane FOIA requests are up from 2008, or maybe the Obama administration is taking secret keeping lessons from Steve Jobs. I don't think one year comparison between the two administrations is really fair. We should probably wait until Obama's first four years are over. Who cares where the original story was from if the topic of conversation is true?
      • Re:Biased much? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by pudge (3605) * Works for Slashdot <{slashdot} {at} {pudge.net}> on Thursday March 18, 2010 @03:43PM (#31527226) Homepage Journal

        Totally agreed. That it is from breitbart is utterly irrelevant. And the raw number is not too interesting unless you know the number of requests, and probably the specific agencies (and topics) the requests were for. Though while, yes, more years will reveal better data, there's nothing wrong with looking at it in-progress.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by beakerMeep (716990)
          Devil's advocate: If a good story came out of Stromfront, would you link to it?
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Wyatt Earp (1029)

            Comparing stormfront to Breitbart? Really?

            Look at the byline of the linked story

            "By SHARON THEIMER
            Associated Press Writer"

            You won't see that over at Stormfront because Stormfront is a fraking White Supremacist BBoard.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by beakerMeep (716990)
              Who's comparing? I asked a question based on his comment that where an article is posted is "utterly irrelevant."
            • Re:Biased much? (Score:5, Interesting)

              by beakerMeep (716990) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:40PM (#31528460)
              I'll probably get modded down for this but it bothers me that you guys dont seem to understand the term "devil's advocate." The purpose was not to compare Brietbart to Stormfront, but to take something way more extreme to use as a contrast. To put into relief that bias matters. And it's clear that it does. The AP often publishes multiple articles so that any one side can pick and choose the one with the numbers that fits their conclusions. Don't believe me? Have a look at this other AP article. [google.com]

              They denied FOIA requests in their entirety based on exemptions 20,005 times last fiscal year, compared with 21,057 times the previous year.

              Notice the conclusions are the complete opposite? Welcome to reporting by the AP. They are biased, but they are biased in both directions -- and they do it by spamming out stories to stir up controversy. Don't get me wrong, it's not all bad. But even the usually well respected AP has an angle, and it's important to remember that. So I ask again, is it any wonder why Brietbart picked the article it did?

              • Re:Biased much? (Score:4, Informative)

                by Kreigaffe (765218) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @06:02PM (#31529710)

                That's deceptive. You quoted one part of the article, which taken out of context makes it sound as if they refused less FOIA requests this year than last. That's untrue -- they refused less FOIA requests *in their entirety* this year than last, by a small amount. There's also about 10% less FOIA reqeusts this year than last (yet the ones refused in their entirety only fell ~5%). That article makes no mention of the total number of bits of information withheld. The one at breit does -- [quote]The agencies cited exemptions at least 466,872 times in budget year 2009, compared with 312,683 times the previous year ...[/quote].

                The conclusions are not the complete opposite, and even the 'administration-friendly' article you linked doesn't at any point insinuate that Obama's administration is any more open and transparent than Bush's.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Red Flayer (890720)

          Though while, yes, more years will reveal better data, there's nothing wrong with looking at it in-progress.

          Although, of course, there IS something wrong with jumping to conclusions based upon incomplete data.

          And you know just as well as I do that the article at breitbart is intended to lead people who like to jump to conclusions that support their politics.

      • You are correct it is interesting and warrants further reading but maybe some of use don't want to give clicks to a website so ridiculous he has a whole dedicated "bighollywood" subdomain? AP is no bastion of journalistic integrity either. People should learn they are a coop of newspaper writers that pushes controversy on both sides.
      • Re:Biased much? (Score:5, Informative)

        by lorenlal (164133) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @03:46PM (#31527280)

        FTA: Google edition:
        The agencies cited exemptions at least 466,872 times in budget year 2009, compared with 312,683 times the previous year, the review found. Over the same period, the number of information requests declined by about 11 percent, from 493,610 requests in fiscal 2008 to 444,924 in 2009. Agencies often cite more than one exemption when withholding part or all of the material sought in an open-records request.

        So, the number of requests declined 11% and the number of exemptions was much higher.

        Awesome.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by RobinEggs (1453925)

        We should probably wait until Obama's first four years are over.

        I'm always amused when people say something like this...you all remember we're not actually required to elect presidents for two terms, right? I think relatively few people of either party believe he's doing well enough, so far, to deserve a second term in any case.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zero_out (1705074)

        I don't think one year comparison between the two administrations is really fair. We should probably wait until Obama's first four years are over.

        Unfortunately, by that time it will be a moot point. If we assume that he doesn't get reelected, then the we will only be able to look back and say "yep, Obama was more secretive." If we assume that he does get reelected, then we still lose those 3 years of having greater information available. Those are 3 years that you cannot get back. Either way, we lose something by waiting another 3 years.

    • Re:Biased much? (Score:5, Informative)

      by longacre (1090157) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @03:39PM (#31527148) Homepage
      It's an Associated Press story. Here's the same story hosted on Google [google.com] if it makes you feel better, oh and Yahoo [yahoo.com], too, and Salon [salon.com], oh and the Philadelphia Inquirer [philly.com].
    • Re:Biased much? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Thursday March 18, 2010 @03:39PM (#31527150) Homepage Journal

      Meaningless, it's an AP story. Would you feel better reading it on The Stamford Advocate [stamfordadvocate.com]? Or the San Jose Mercury News [mercurynews.com]?

      I'd also like to point out that a knee-jerk accusation of bias sounds and awful lot like . . . bias.

      -Peter

    • Re:Biased much? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jeffmeden (135043) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @03:40PM (#31527164) Homepage Journal

      The headline is misleading, despite the source. The source was willing to go as far as saying that this figure is in spite of Obama's own directive to stop using these loopholes for the FOIA. So whether it is lack of proper pressure, simple insubordination, or a deluge of requests (these figures should appropriately be compared to the overall requests, right?) the bottom line is that the President directed it to not happen and it is happening anyway.

      • or a deluge of requests (these figures should appropriately be compared to the overall requests, right?)

        That's the first thing that crossed my mind. For example, Hawaii is still getting hit with requests for Obama's birth records.

        If someone requests 10 times something that's legitimately blockable, do those 10 still count to the denied requests?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by bondsbw (888959)

        In the Bush days, the President was responsible for everything that happened, regardless if he directed one way or the other.

        (Looking forward to that mod-down now, thanks much.)

    • by viridari (1138635)
      Look again. That's straight from the Associated Press.
  • Well, I must say (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 18, 2010 @03:33PM (#31527026)

    That's change I can believe in.

    I'd like to be surprised - but it seems like all the presidents are mostly interchangeable these days.

  • Surprised? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by OdoylesRule (1765008)
    Is this really surprising?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by e2d2 (115622)

      Only to people that buy political bullshit by the ton.

    • by RingDev (879105) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @03:53PM (#31527448) Homepage Journal

      The first reaction, especially given the headline is, Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

      But, as pointed out in the article: "Obama's directive, memorialized in written instructions from the Justice Department, appears to have been widely ignored."

      Then we look into the details. The fiscal year that this article is covering started in October 2008 and ended in October 2009. So for the first quarter of the time period covered by this article, we weren't even in the Obama Administration.

      Also, if we assume that the decision to exempt information from FOIA requests is made by senior officers in the respective agencies, and we know that Bush had 8 years to appoint people who shared his views, and that the Senate Republicans have been doing an impressive job of blocking and delaying Obama's appointments, let alone the "cleaning" that occurs once the new bosses are in place.

      Should it come as a surprise to anyone that this last year was no better, and perhaps even worse than the previous year? Absolutely not. I would expect that this coming year should show improvement, provided the white house is willing to back up Obama's directive now that they have had time to get more of their appointments into positions of authority.

      That said, I sure hope this article makes it to the President's desk and that he thinks long and hard about it.

      -Rick

  • Today's Government (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jmactacular (1755734)
    It's amazing how much hoopla goes into picking and voting for a particular party, when government is so much bigger than just one man (or woman). It makes you wonder if anything will ever, or can ever, change.
  • ... and he doesn't need to answer to the ignorant masses or explain himself to them.

  • by kimvette (919543) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @03:52PM (#31527412) Homepage Journal

    If the media really cared about open government and barring corruption, they would be publishing daily headlines about denials to FOIA requests, how long they have been waiting, and what the alleged reason is. If the press did their job and informed the people rather than preach propaganda, people could be better armed with information to put pressure on elected officials and force them to move on come election day if the officials don't mend their ways.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jav1231 (539129)
      Agreed. If we knew everything we probably should we probably wouldn't be rooting/campaigning/supporting any of the current array of politicians in office today, or the past 20 years or more. Perhaps we'd throw down our pom-poms and start being a more United America.
  • The Nine Exemptions (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:14PM (#31527890) Journal

    (From the EPA report, though all agencies use the same criteria)


    a. Exemption 1: Classified national defense and foreign relations information
    b. Exemption 2: Internal agency rules and practices
    c. Exemption 3: Information that is prohibited from disclosure by another federal law
    d. Exemption 4: Trade secrets and other confidential business information
    e. Exemption 5: Inter-agency or intra-agency communications that are protected by legal privileges
    f. Exemption 6: Information involving matters of personal privacy
    g. Exemption 7: Records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, to the extent that the production of those records (A) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, (B) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication, (C) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, (D) could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, (E) would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or (F) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual
    h. Exemption 8: Information relating to the supervision of financial institutions
    i. Exemption 9: Geological information on wells

    Some of those exemptions provide for a certain amount of creativity on the part of the denier.

  • by evilmousse (798341) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:14PM (#31527900) Homepage Journal

    What goes unmentioned:

    97% of the millions of denied FoIA requests that make up this statistic were requests for Obama's birth certificate.

  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:18PM (#31527978)
    Were the inquiries both of a similar nature during both of the time periods in question? Or were there more rejected requests because the requests were asking for more sensitive info? Like most things that originate on Breibart/Drudge, too much information is missing....
  • by bckspc (172870) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:21PM (#31528024) Homepage

    Every time I read a story about how Obama is continuing a Bush administration policy, or extending and exceding it, I post it to http://obamaisthenewbush.tumblr.com/ [tumblr.com]

    Having kept this up, on and off, for the last 6 months some patterns definitely appear. The Justice Department is seriously entrenched in covering its ass, cracking down hard on individual freedoms and privacy, and almost always falling on the side of big business.

    I'm not disappointed because I believed all the pablum about "Change" and "Hope," but because Obama was a frickin' law professor. He should know better!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 18, 2010 @04:22PM (#31528072)

    Go get more informative numbers from here [sunshineingovernment.org]. In 2008 56% of requests were granted. In 2009 61% of requests were granted. 2009 also worked to clear up the request backlog. It is a move in the right direction and as others have pointed out Bush was still in charge for part of FY 2009, so he might have skewed the numbers for the year.

  • How this works (Score:5, Informative)

    by cmpalmer (234347) * on Thursday March 18, 2010 @05:00PM (#31528762) Homepage

    I've done some work with federal agencies and how they process FOIA requests:

    A request for information under the FOIA can be granted, partially denied, or denied. If the request is granted, the exact records requested are returned unedited. If the request is denied, one or more reasons (exceptions) must be stated from a list of allowed exemptions. If a request is partially denied, one or more exemptions must be stated and what the requester receives back will either be a subset of what was asked for or will be redacted to remove sensitive information. For example, PIA (personally identifiable information - like SSNs, birth dates, medical records, etc.) is an exemption and is grounds for a partial denial, but it usually only means that this information will be redacted from the requested records.

    So if you are looking at statistics (annual FOIA reports are required by law from every government entity and the reports themselves are either published or available via FOIA request themselves), you need to know the total number of new requests, the total number of requests held over from the previous fiscal year, the number of requests granted, the number partially denied, and the number totally denied. There are also individual statistics for denials and partial denials broken down by exemptions. There isn't anything on the annual report about how many exemptions were applied to individual requests - that would just have to be averaged out.

    The Obama administration did encourage more release of records under the FOIA and a relaxing of exemptions. The idea was to assume that any record could be released unless an exemption prevented it. The previous directive was to presume that any record could not released and then try to justify it. If they couldn't justify denying it, they would grudgingly release it. The other thing that has been encouraged is pre-emptive release. For any request that is granted (no exemptions) there is no reason to not put that record on the agency's public web site to avoid processing any future requests for it. Or if there are certain types of records that can be released and that get requested often, go ahead and publish them. Theoretically this will reduce the number of FOIA requests processed, but I think it's probably too early to see a difference based on this policy.

    • Re:How this works (Score:5, Interesting)

      by XorNand (517466) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @05:41PM (#31529432)

      I just wanted to add my two cents... A month or so ago, I filed my first FOIA request. I requested some non-sensitive statistical data from an office associated with the Dept of Defense. Despite the banality of the data I was requesting, because it was related to the military and the shear volume of it (over 10M records), I was expecting some foot dragging. However, I was very pleasantly surprised. The very next day, the FOIA officer emailed me and then followed up with a phone call. She kept me apprised of the status of my request and about three weeks later, the data was FTPed to me. She even found someone to answer some questions I had about the formatting of the files.

      I was fully expecting a more adversarial process considering the reputations of FOIA requests. But I learned that FOIA officers seem to care a great deal about facilitating requests. Just wanted to give kudos here where some is due.

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @05:51PM (#31529578)

    Agencies under the Obama administration cite security provisions to withhold information more often than they did under the Bush administration. For example, the 'deliberative process' exemption of the Freedom of Information Act was used 70,779 times in 2009, up from the 47,395 of 2008.

    This makes no sense: it uses the frequency of use of the (non-security) "deliberative process" exemption as a supposed example of the Obama administration using "security provisions" more frequently than Bush's did. It clearly isn't an example of that, since the deliberative process exemption isn't a security provision.

    It's like saying "John Doe owns more pickup trucks than Bob Smith. For instance, John Doe owns 36 Toyota Corollas, while Bob Smith only owns 24."

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