Remember former President Barack Obama’s repeated promise that his administration would be transparent?
Well, it turns out the “most transparent administration in history” spent a heck of a lot of money to avoid being transparent.
According to a new analysis by the Associated Press, the Obama administration spent a record $36.2 million on legal costs to defend its refusal to turn over federal records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) during its final year in office.
Of the $36.2 million in legal costs fighting FOIA lawsuits last year, three departments accounted for more than half of the government’s total records requests: the Justice Department accounted for $12 million, Homeland Security for $6.3 million, and the Pentagon for $4.8 million.
From the AP:
For a second consecutive year, the Obama administration set a record for times federal employees told citizens, journalists and others that despite searching they couldn’t find a single page of files that were requested.
And it set records for outright denial of access to files, refusing to quickly consider requests described as especially newsworthy, and forcing people to pay for records who had asked the government to waive search and copy fees.
The government acknowledged when challenged that it had been wrong to initially refuse to turn over all or parts of records in more than one-third of such cases, the highest rate in at least six years.
According to a litigation study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, the AP reports, the number of lawsuits filed by news organizations under FOIA surged during the past four years.
In 2016, the Obama administration received a record 788,769 requests for files, spent a record $478 million answering them, and employed 4,263 full-time FOIA employees across more than 100 federal departments and agencies.
Overall, in the final year of Obama’s administration, people who asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of requests, about the same as in 2015.
On Monday, the AP settled its 2015 lawsuit against the State Department for files about Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state, and received $150,546 from the department to cover part of its legal fees.
The AP has pending FOIA lawsuits against the FBI for records about its impersonation of an AP journalist during a criminal investigation and about who helped the FBI hack into a mass shooting suspect’s iPhone and how much the government paid to do it.
Under FOIA, citizens and foreigners can compel the U.S. government to turn over copies of federal records for little to no cost. Anyone who seeks information is generally supposed to get it, unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy, or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas.
Contributed by Lily Dane