Putting TRAC to Work
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March 8, 2012

FOIA: Honored in the Breach!
By William Fisher

Since Obama's historic first day in office, numerous studies and surveys have been carried out by researchers in and out of government. The most recent of these has been published by TRAC -- the Transactional Records Access Clearing House, a research unit at Syracuse University. Its findings are not pretty. The TRAC research considered whether or not a key component of that March 2009 directive which set forth new "defensive standards" for FOIA litigation has been obeyed. Yet here are two shockers: TRAC says available evidence indicates that no affirmative steps needed to implement the new defensive standards were ever taken. Further, there is little evidence that these new standards have made any impact on actual Department of Justice practices in defending federal agency withholding. In short, the new defensive standards seem to have become simply empty words on paper; Furthermore, TRAC and many others charge that, after three years, the Freedom of Information Act -- the basic building block of government transparency -- is still in shackles. According to Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Obama Administration "has been just as secretive--if not more so--than his predecessors, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has become the prime example of his administration's lack of progress." Similarly, TRAC found little evidence that these new standards are actually being followed. In fact, some individuals interviewed by TRAC expressed the opinion that Justice Department attorneys had become even more aggressive in defending anything that federal agencies chose to withhold.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
Copyright 2012
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