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The National Memo
May 12, 2015

No Information? No Freedom.
By David Cay Johnston


President Obama ran for office seven years ago promising the most open and transparent administration in history. But a clever test has revealed the chasm between that promise and reality. Just seven of 21 federal agencies responded properly to a simple Freedom of Information Act request, while 10 of the remaining 14 agencies flouted the law. The Central Intelligence Agency responded by denying the request, but it turns out the CIA was playing games, as we shall see. This lawlessness matters because government officials, regardless of party, like to hide information. They do this for myriad reasons, whether itís to genuflect to defense contractors with lucrative contracts, conceal whether airport body scanners are effective, or to cover up misleading official statements. Thatís where a clever project by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University comes in. To comply with the Freedom of Information Act, federal agencies must create a unique number to track each request, noting when the request arrived and when the case was closed. TRAC asked 21 agencies for this and similar tracking data covering every FOIA request filed from October 2012 to December 2014. Why such arcane data, which does not identify the requester or the information sought? Management professor Sue Long, a TRAC co-director, said that data is needed to analyze how quickly agencies comply with the Act. Our government derives its powers from the consent of the people. It must be held accountable if our liberties are to endure.


Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
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