According to a new report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and OpentheGovernment.org, the Obama administration partially or fully denied FOIA requests by invoking exemptions to FOIA law 33% more in 2010 than the Bush administration had in 2008. Perhaps in part because the Obama administration denied a third more requests in whole or in part than did Bush, his agencies moved with swiftness to get rid of nearly half the backlogged FOIA requests waiting for his administration when it came to power. There were about 126,200 requests waiting for government action in 2008; by 2010 that number had shrunk to 64,500.
The report comes after a scandal last year in which DHS was accused of having sent FOIA requests up the political chain to determine what could be released to the public. The FOIA process is supposed to remain firmly outside the political realm, and to be governed solely by the regulations laid out in the legislation that authorizes the process, the Freedom of Information Act itself, which imposes narrow limits on the circumstances under which the government may refuse access to information. The Obama administration denied charges of political interference with the FOIA process, but late last year a DHS Inspector General report found some of the allegations were correct, writing that the Office of the Secretary “has had unprecedented involvement in the Freedom of Information Act process beginning in 2009.”
Clouding the government's operations in further secrecy, the Obama Justice Department under Eric Holder has asserted that it has the right to outright lie to FOIA requesters. But even before it publicly asserted this authority, the FBI was using it: in April 2011 the FBI got caught lying to a judge about the status of one request. The judge wasn't happy:
…The Government's representations were then, and remain today, blatantly false. As the Government's in camera submission makes clear, the Government located a significant number of documents that were responsive to Plaintiff's FOIA request. Virtually all of the information within those documents is inside the scope of Plaintiff's FOIA request. The Government asserts that it had to mislead the Court regarding the Government's response to Plaintiff's FOIA request to avoid compromising national security. The Government's argument is untenable. The Government cannot, under any circumstance, affirmatively mislead the Court.