Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) complaints filed in federal court have skyrocketed under President Barack Obama despite his promise to have “the most transparent administration ever,” according to a comprehensive analysis by a Syracuse University research unit.
A total of 498 FOIA lawsuits were filed in 2015, the highestnumber since 2001, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse study made public Wednesday. The 421 suits filed in 2014 previously held the highest annual total.
The most recent two-year total represents a 54 percent increase over the total of 595 FOIA lawsuits filed in 2009 and 2010. See the accompanying chart below.
The FOIA requires federal departments and agencies to makeavailable requests of all official documents, not covered by ahandful of exemptions such as for law enforcement, privacy andprotection of commercial secrets. When requested documentsaren’t made available as required by law, requestors often goto federal court seeking a judicial order to compel production.
“The 919 FOIA cases filed in the period fiscal year 2014â€“ 2015 also far outnumber those filed during thelast two years of the previous Bush administration. There were only562 such matters filed during fiscal year 2007 â€“2008, yielding a 64 percent increase for the most recentperiod,” TRAC said announcing the results of itsanalysis.
The Syracuse University researchunit was founded by former New York Times investigative reporterDavid Burnham in 1989.
A total of 2,609 FOIA lawsuits were filed during Obama’sadministration from 2009 to 2015, compared to 2,091 filed duringthe Bush administration from 2002 through 2008. The highest annualtotal of the Bush years was 387 in 2005.
â€œThis is the most transparent administrationin history,â€ Obama said in 2013 during a Google Plus Fireside Chat.â€œI can document that this is the case. Everyvisitor that comes into the White House is now part of the publicrecord. Every law we pass and every rule we implement we put onlinefor everyone to see.â€
Obama did begin posting information to the Internet about WhiteHouse visitors but only after a lawsuit was filed by the nonprofitgovernment watchdog Judicial Watch.
Critics have frequently reminded Obama of his transparencyclaim, a fact TRAC noted, “theadministrationâ€™s record has been a contentiousmatter ever since President Obamaâ€™s first daysin office, when both he and Attorney General Eric Holder madesweeping claims about the ambitious FOIA policies they would followin the years ahead.”
“In a short memorandum to the heads of all ExecutiveBranch departments and agencies, the president said the Freedom ofInformation Act ‘should be administered with a clearpresumption: in the face of doubt, openness prevails.'”
TRAC also cautioned, however, that an increase in the number ofFOIA lawsuits being filed isn’t necessarily an indicator ofless government transparency during a particular presidentialadministration.
“Because of possible changes in public attitudes about thepublicâ€™s right to obtain government records, itswillingness to challenge governmentâ€™s failure toprovide transparency, as well as changes in the Freedom ofInformation law and case law, the increase in federal FOIA courtfilings does not necessarily mean that the current administrationis more or less secretive than those of the past,” TRACsaid.
“But the rising counts well may indicate that thisadministration has not lived up to the ambitious open governmentpromises made when President Obama first came to the WhiteHouse,” TRAC said.