Friday, August 13, 2010
The more things “change,” the more they stay the same in Barack Obama’s Washington, D.C. – especially when it comes to government transparency.
After decrying his predecessor as the “most secretive” President in American history, then-candidate Obama promised in 2008 to usher in a new era of transparency in our nation’s capital. Two years later however, this campaign rhetoric has proven every bit as hollow and hypocritical as Obama’s pledge to refrain from raising taxes on the middle class (which he violated at least a dozen times upon signing his new socialized medicine legislation).
Obama has talked a good game on transparency, but he has done far worse than fail to keep his promise and deliver a more open government – he has actually moved our country in the wrong direction.
On his first full day in office, Obama sent out a widely-publicized memo to government agencies regarding his views on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a collection of laws that exist to ensure public access to public documents.
“All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open government,” Obama wrote.
While Obama’s words were praised by both the legacy media and open government advocates, the truth is his administration’s actions have made it more difficult for citizens to access public documents.
In fact, according to a March 2010 Associated Press analysis of FOIA responses at 17 major agencies, 466,872 FOIA denials were issued during the Obama administration’s first year in office – a 50 percent increase over the previous year. Also, a March 2010 study by George Washington University’s National Security Archive found that two-thirds of federal agencies ignored Obama’s memo and made no changes whatsoever to their FOIA policy.
In addition to denying more FOIA requests, Obama has refused to call for an audit of the secret Federal Reserve Bank and rescinded Bush-era disclosure requirements for labor union leaders – the same union bosses who provided over $100 million (and nearly half a million volunteers) for Obama and Democratic Congressional candidates in 2008.
The hypocrisy on transparency doesn’t end there, though.
As part of the draconian new financial regulations Obama and his Congressional allies are imposing on the private sector, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is now virtually exempt from FOIA law. Under a little-known provision of the new law, the SEC would not have to release any information derived from “surveillance, risk assessments, or other regulatory and oversight activities” – a purposefully broad definition that encompasses virtually everything the SEC does.
“It allows the SEC to block the public’s access to virtually all SEC records,” former agency attorney turned whistleblower Gary Aguirre told FOX News. “It permits the SEC to promulgate its own rules and regulations regarding the disclosure of records without getting the approval of the Office of Management and Budget, which typically applies to all federal agencies."
In fact, within days of the new law being signed, the SEC was already turning down FOIA requests from media outlets citing the new exemption.
While Obama permits yet another government agency to hide its dealings from public view, he has repeatedly touted the “increased transparency” that the new legislation provides with respect to private sector financial transactions. Once again, he is perpetuating a double standard by empowering a growing Washington bureaucracy that remains hell bent on assuming more influence over our individual freedoms and the free market economy.
While private sector firms face new fees and regulations, government agencies are given unlimited streams of taxpayer revenue and Orwellian power to play with – even though government lending policies (and a failure to reform government-backed mortgage behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) contributed mightily to the recent collapse of the sub-prime market.
If our free market and individual freedoms are to survive, we must reverse our current course – limiting regulation and demanding absolute transparency with respect to the few core functions government ought to provide.
Howard Rich is Chairman of Americans for Limited Government.
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See Other Commentary by Howard Rich
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.
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