Even as the freshly minted Obama administration was pledging a “new era of open government” in 2009, officials were quietly adding new rules that had the potential to slow down public requests for documents. hose rules, detailed in memos. The rules detailed in the memos largely emanated from the Treasury Department and, specifically, the IRS.
Dan Epstein, director of Cause of ActionThe memos follow reports about the administration’s use of private email accounts, and coincide with ongoing debate about government transparency — particularly with recent disclosures about widespread surveillance programs. The White House sometimes got involved, slowing down the process. The IRS also acknowledged having another review process for requests from “major media,” but not for requests from private individuals.
The Treasury Department, though, in late 2009 erected speed bumps for some so-called FOIA requests. The rules were detailed in a November 2010 memo and report sent from the Treasury inspector general to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. The documents showed the Treasury Department set up an additional “formal level of review” for requests for “sensitive information.” This category would cover everything from emails to memos to calendars to travel logs for top department officials, legal advisers, senior advisers and others.
Once a request was deemed “sensitive,” it would then go before a “review committee,” made up of officials from several Treasury offices. Further, the document said a special report would be prepared for IRS requests from “major media.” This report would then be sent to a higher-up in the division who decided whether the material should be disclosed. The report repeatedly said that, in most cases, political appointees were not involved in these decisions, and that the agencies have no procedures to allow that.
Another memo, dated April 15, 2009, from then-White House Counsel Greg Craig that urged “executive agencies” to consult with his office “on all document requests that may involve documents with White House equities.” Craig said this pertains to everything from FOIA requests to congressional requests to subpoenas. White House involvement “was responsible in several cases for adding a significant processing delay,” which in Treasury’s case slowed them down. “It actually is heavily ironic in the realm of transparency,” Epstein said.
He pointed to edicts and memos early on in the first term of the administration stressing transparency. Obama issued a January 2009 directive calling for an “unprecedented level of openness.” Attorney General Eric Holder in March 2009 directed all Executive Branch departments to use a “presumption of openness” when dealing with FOIA requests. To that end, the administration has instituted several other transparency initiatives. It has followed through on requiring Cabinet secretaries to hold Internet town hall discussions, set up a comprehensive website to track stimulus spending, and set up a national declassification center. Source—judson berger, fox news