Transparency forecast: Slim chance of sunshine
Sunday kicked off Sunshine Week, a seven-day period in which news organizations promote freedom of information and open government. And similarly to 2013, this year the spotlight was aimed at the government’s transparency shortcomings.
According to several watchdog organization reviews, the administration is lacking in its effort to improve openness.
In the annual government transparency report by the Center for Effective Government, “Making the Grade: Access to Information Scorecard 2014,” seven out of 15 agencies received failing grades.
Among the lowest performers were the departments of State at 37 percent, Homeland Security at 51 percent and Defense at 51 percent — all failing grades.
The Social Security Administration received the top score, with a B at 83 percent, followed closely by the Justice Department at 81 percent and the Environmental Protection Agency at 78 percent.
The analysis evaluates the performance of the 15 federal agencies that had the highest number of FOIA requests in FY 2012. Agencies were examined in three areas: processing requests for information, establishing rules for information access, and creating user-friendly websites.
An Associated Press analysis of federal data found more often than ever, the administration censored government files or outright denied access to those documents.
Many are saying these numbers directly contradict a promise President Barack Obama made his first day in office: for his administration to become the most transparent in history. Now, halfway through his second term, government figures show how the administration’s efforts to be more open are at their worst since the president took office six years ago.
Last year, 704,394 requests were made for information, of which 36 percent were denied access by the government or the government censored the materials it turned over. On 196,034 occasions, the government said it couldn’t find the records, a person refused to pay for copies, or the government determined it was an improper or unreasonable request.
According to the AP, “sometimes the government censored only a few words or an employee’s phone number, but other times it completely marked out nearly every paragraph on pages.”
Sunshine Week is organized by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Bloomberg, The Gridiron Club and Foundation, American Society of News Editors, and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.