05.13.2011 1

Obama’s ‘Transparency’ A Failure of Leadership

By Robert Romano – So much for Barack Obama’s vaunted transparency.

Americans for Limited Government (ALG) is appealing the Department of Labor’s refusal to turn over all documents related to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on enforcement of 185 laws the Department is required to follow. And the organization is still waiting to hear back on key items in the request.

This is nothing new with the Obama Administration. Recently, Crossroads GPS created an online repository for pending FOIA requests with the Obama Administration, called Wikicountability.org.

This included the request that covered the Department’s implementation of an online enforcement database, which should have included prosecutions of corruption in labor unions, ALG says, but was not.

“That data should be in the database, and the question is why not,” ALG President Bill Wilson explained, saying the request was being “stonewalled” by the Department. After all, the prosecution of union corruption is a key item of the Department’s enforcement responsibilities.

He speculated on the possibility that “they don’t want that information to be public because it makes union officials look bad. It may be embarrassing, but we want those documents; the public has a right to know.”

ALG filed the FOIA request in August 2010, the first to the Office of the Secretary (OSEC), which produced no initial response. This compelled the organization to file two follow-ups to the FOIA requests: one to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management in Feb. 2011 and the other to the Department’s Office of the Solicitor (SOL) in Mar. 2011.

ALG Counsel Nathan Mehrens explained, “We initially requested information from the Department in order to better understand how the Department is communicating its enforcement statistics through its online enforcement database.”

He added, “This database is mysteriously missing certain critical information such as the number of union officials who were prosecuted by the Department for stealing from union members.”

The follow-up to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management again hit a stone wall. On April 18, they finally replied that “A search was conducted within the Office of the Secretary. No records were found responsive to your request.”

But then the Solicitor’s office did find responsive documents — through the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy (OASP). According to the appeal, “Based on the evidence received from OASP it is clear that senior personnel from OSEC have in their possession federal records that are responsive to Appellant’s FOIA request. As such, the assertion from OSEC that they found ‘no documents responsive’ to Appellant’s request is either incorrect or the OSEC did not perform an adequate search for responsive records to Appellant’s request.”

Either way, Mehrens said “This shows that the Department’s FOIA processing mechanisms are not working properly. It is also not the only time we’ve been told that there are no records, despite evidence to the contrary.”

This proves the Department is not living up to Obama’s vow for transparency in his Administration, when he said on Jan. 21, 2009, “Let me say it as clearly as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

Mehrens explained, “This was followed up by further guidance from both the President and the Attorney General on how the government was to handle releasing information to the public in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.”

In that guidance the federal government was instructed to quickly turn around information requests and that it should have a bias toward disclosure and not attempt to redact information merely because of technicalities. So much for that.

In the end, it appears Obama talked the talk of transparency, but when it comes to walking the walk, is falling far short. It’s a failure of leadership.

Wilson said the Administration was “two-faced on transparency,” concluding, “This is not the kind of transparency we were promised by Obama. Based on our two years of work requesting records from the Obama Administration it appears that not everyone has received the message. It’s time for the Administration to stop stonewalling legitimate requests.”

Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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