FOIA suit targets agencies, OMB, IRS for document delays

President Barack Obama, when he was a senator, made government transparency a linchpin in his political sales pitch. Obama used as an example the secrecy employed by the administration of President George W. Bush on counterterrorism practices after the attacks on the U.S. homeland in 2001.

Obama was mum about government secrecy prior to Bush 43, however, and so were media.

By the time Obama entered his second term, even leftist media had reluctantly acknowledged his failure to deliver what he promised. Obama’s failure, however, drew less attention simply because media is dominated by Democrat interests.

The latest lawsuit in a number of suits aimed at gaining access to government documents has been filed by Cause of Action, a group that advocates for government accountability.

CoA says the group is suing 10 cabinet agencies, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Internal Revenue Service “for refusing to disclose communications concerning documents the agencies shared with the White House. The records would reveal whether and how the White House politicizes records requests sent to federal agencies.”

CoA made a very disturbing claim about alleged obstruction of information technically owned by US citizens:

“Accountable and transparent government does not involve instructing agencies to send politically sensitive records to the White House for review. The bureaucracy has violated the law by stonewalling the public’s access to documents for political reasons. Cause of Action’s own investigation reveals that the White House is actually demanding access from agencies to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and Congressional document requests, as well as the documents subject to those requests, in a manner that may obstruct congressional oversight and violate the spirit of FOIA.” [Dan Epstein, Cause of Action’s executive director]

While Obama and his fellow Democrats routinely assailed Bush 43 for secrecy, especially on matters like Enhanced Interrogation Techniques such as waterboarding, by the time the he took office, President Obama apparently changed his mind. Now if the president suspects someone of colluding in or originating terrorist acts, he can drone the person. That was the case with US-born Anwar al Awlaki who was killed in Yemen. The suspect had no trial.

Nor did al Awlaki’s teen son, also an American citizen, who died in a later drone incident. The son was the same age as many of the people Democrats describe as “children” currently breaching the U.S. southern border.

Ironically, suspected terrorists lived to talk about waterboarding. Droning usually leaves no witness.

National media have failed to make the obvious comparison, but that didn’t start with Obama.

Few Americans realize President Bill Clinton also conducted interrogation and debriefings in secret locations. In the book Hard Measures, Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., details Clinton’s fondness for the same:

“The CIA first got involved in making significant international moves of prisoners not after 9/11 but in the early 1990s during the Clinton administration. More than seventy prisoners had been clandestinely moved in the seven years leading up to September 11.”

Rodriguez had a long career in the CIA and his account is firsthand.

National security measures are understandably sensitive. However, records held by IRS about political persecution of government reform groups or information from the highly politicized Dept. of Labor have nothing to do with national security. An agency stonewalling non-sensitive documents is an agency gone rogue, dangerously violating not only the law but the spirit of a representative republic.

The list of agencies targeted by CoA gives an idea of the depth of obstruction and secrecy:

In addition to the Internal Revenue Service and Office of Management and Budget, the remaining cabinet level agencies that have gone an average of eight months without producing documents are: Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State, Veterans Affairs, Defense, Health and Human Services, Energy, and Treasury.

The White House is the firewall between these agencies and the public who are stakeholders—not “customers” as politicians call us—in the U.S. government. CoA summed up the suit:

“Cause of Action’s White House equities investigation previously uncovered internal emails from the Environmental Protection Agency showing that the White House improperly withheld documents related to a request from Congress, leading to a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee. Cause of Action also obtained documents revealing that a public records appeal filed by Americans for Limited Government with the Department of Labor (DOL) concerning former Secretary Hilda Solis’ calendars was held up for years before DOL released the information, showing that agencies are hiding responsive documents, or delaying the production of responsive documents, because of what they are sharing with the White House.”

Exhibits, the legal complaint, and a release about the suit are posted at the Cause of Action website.

Featured Photo: Snip from FOIA.gov, informational site about Freedom of Information Act requests.

(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Aug. 19, 2014)

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About Kay Day

Kay B. Day is a freelance writer who has published in national and international magazines and websites. The author of 3 books, her work is anthologized in textbooks and collections. She has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Day is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.
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