One of President Obama’s greatest assets is that he makes grandiose, bold commitments of what his administration is going to do for the American people and the nation. When he came into office, he promised to “usher in a new era of open government” and “act promptly” to make information public.
One of President Obama’s greatest liabilities is that he rarely, if ever, fulfills those promises. Consider his track record:
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•One of the first acts he was going to do when elected in 2008 was to shut down the prison facility at Guantanamo since it is a symbol of U.S. repression. As of today, nearly four years later, the prison is still open with no sign it will be shut down any time soon.
•He promised that unlike George Bush, he would not go around Congress and appoint any high ranking government bureaucrat without Congressional approval and hearings (a promise that he has broken numerous times.)
•He promised that his economic stimulus program would get unemployment well below 6% and prevent it from ever going over 8%. Unfortunately, his administration oversaw an all-time record for consecutive months having an unemployment rate over 8%.
•He promised that he would slash the annual Federal government spending deficit in half by the end of his first term but ended up setting sky-high record deficits every year of his first term, incurring a total national debt of over $5 TRILLION in just four short years.
•He promised that he would never raise taxes in a weak economy on any American, something he cannot wait to do now.
•He promised that he would quickly disengage U.S. forces in Iraq and ended up taking three years to do it using the existing Bush exit plan.
•He promised to slash earmarks, thinly-disguised misuses of taxpayer wealth by incumbent politicians to finance their reelection campaigns, but was unable or unwilling to do so.
•At his swearing-in ceremony, he swore to uphold the Constitution and laws of the land and then ignored both during his first four years in office by engaging our military in the Libyan civil war without Congressional approval, ignoring court orders by a Federal judge relative to the Gulf oil drilling moratorium, unilaterally declining to enforce the tenets of the DOMA law (a law that should have never been passed but was the law of the land, requiring the administration to enforce it), and sanctioning the first official government assassination of an American citizen without due process of law.
We could go on with other broken promises, but you get the idea. Great at promising, pitiful in delivering on those promises. But probably his biggest lie/disappointment has been the promise to operate the most transparent Presidential administration ever. No secrets, open government, high transparency. Not surprisingly, this is also a failed promise, a very large failure across all Federal entities:
For example, Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, is involved in the latest Obama administration embarrassment over transparency when it came to light that she has been conducting EPA business using two email accounts. One account is a publicly known and used, official email account.
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Another email account that she has been reportedly using for private EPA business is listed under “Richard Windsor”, a moniker that very few people knew was actually Ms. Jackson. Richard Windsor is a family dog from Ms. Jackson’s childhood. Obviously, at least on the surface, this appears to be a way for a top Obama administration official to bypass those nasty laws on transparency, Freedom Of Information requests, and Congress.
According to a recent article on the same topic from the Washington Times on November 17, 2012, government open-records laws are supposed to make information available to the public now and for posterity at the National Archives, the government agency that gathers official correspondence. There are strict rules on the use of email addresses, and the rules prohibit using private emails to try to bypass open-records laws.
The EPA claims that nothing was amiss here, just an EPA official doing business like many of her predecessors who also may have had alternative, secretive emails. Obviously, there are two problems with this excuse. First, just because previous people had secret email accounts does not make it right, legal, or transparent, as promised by Obama.
And second, experts in this area of governance are not buying this somewhat lame excuse, quoting from a recent article from Politico:
•“I don’t know any other agency that does this,” said Anne Weismann, chief counsel of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which asked EPA’s inspector general on Tuesday to investigate the matter. Even if Jackson needs a separate email account, Weismann asked “why would you pick a fictitious name of someone of different gender? To me it smacks of … trying to hide.”
•Another expert, Bradley Blakeman (a former senior Bush aide) stated in a broadcast interview that the EPA arrangement “smells.”
•“What good reason, if we use common sense, would there be for a high government official to have a fictitious email account?” he asked.
Good question, Mr. Blakeman. Congress is investigating, as are some government inspector generals, to see if this was actually an attempt to undermine and undercut government transparency rules, regulations, and promises.
But the intrigue of hidden emails to possibly avoid transparency does not stop at the EPA. The Washington Times article cited above reported on similar hanky-panky at the Department of Energy. According to the article, a Congressional committee, the Science committee, investigating this hidden email scandal found that Jonathan Silver, the Energy Department’s loan officer, “explicitly directed others to keep loan guarantee communications secret by not linking public and private email accounts, and sent emails detailing official government business using his private email account.”
One instance of using hidden emails to conduct secret business might be an accident. However, two departments using hidden emails to conduct secret business is a trend. If we find another department doing the same shenanigans, we have a scandal and a confirmed broken promise of the Obama administration.
A November 21, 2012 article on the InfoWars website cited a Washington Post story which reported that the Obama administration had secretly signed off on a secret cybersecurity Presidential directive that would allow intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly operate on the networks of private companies such as Google and Facebook.
This directive would greatly expand the NSA’s authority and ability to spy on citizens and companies. In response to this obvious direct hit on freedom and privacy, lawyers from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request demanding that the Obama administration release the text of the directive for review.
Unfortunately, for liberty and transparency, the NSA denied the FOIA request. The NSA contends that it does not have to release the directive since it is a confidential Presidential communication and it is classified. So much for transparency.
The EPIC plans to continue the legal battle for transparency on this issue, which we wish them luck on. However, this is not the first time that the EPIC and this not-so-transparent administration have clashed over the release of government information:
•In testimony to Congress earlier this year, EPIC explained that the NSA has been a “black hole for public information about cybersecurity.”
•EPIC is also currently involved in an ongoing lawsuit involving the nature of the NSA’s secretive relationship with Google.
•Another EPIC lawsuit, this one dating back to 2008, is also being pursued relative to the NSA’s cybersecurity authority.
Again, so much for transparency, a concept that is critically important when it comes to freedom and the authority of government to spy on its own citizens without debate, without judicial overview, and without consent.
If you are like most Americans, you are probably not aware of what the government calls “fusion centers”. These “centers” are regional government centers that collect information on American citizens. Quite simply, they are domestic spying operations as defined by Wikipedia: “A fusion center is an information sharing center, many of which were created under a joint project between the Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Justice‘s Office of Justice Programs between 2003 and 2007.”
They are designed to promote information-sharing at the Federal level between agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Justice, the US Military, and state and local governments. As of July 2009, the Department of Homeland Security recognized at least seventy-two fusion centers.
In other words, fusion centers are domestic spying and analysis centers located around the country. Now, I understand there are reasons for secrecy and security when it comes to protecting citizens. However, the Department of Homeland Security has more or less unilaterally decided that fusion centers will be exempt from Freedom Of Information requests and other inquiries.
Thus, most if not all Americans will never know if they are under investigation or if their names and personal information have somehow been identified and stored by one of these fusion centers, making them a perennial suspect in the government’s eyes. The concept of freedom of information was to ensure that these types of domestic spying activities were open to the air and sunshine of disclosure and discussion in our republic.
To unilaterally decide not to share the processes and information that the government is collecting on innocent Americans (remember the quaint concept of “innocent until proven guilty”) is not consistent with the concept of liberty. It is certainly not consistent with the concept of government transparency.
But apparently, this lack of transparency in the Obama administration is not related to just national security and spying. Bloomberg ran an article in late September regarding the utter failure of the Obama administration to fulfill a simple FOIA request:
•Nineteen of 20 cabinet-level agencies disobeyed the law requiring the simple disclosure of public information unrelated to national security.
•The request was the travel cost of top government officials.
•Bloomberg found that just 8 of the 57 Federal agencies met Bloomberg’s request for those documents within the 20-day window required by the Act.
•Nineteen of the twenty Cabinet-level requests were not fulfilled in time to be in compliance with Federal disclosure laws.
•In an ironic twist of government incompetence and secrecy, the Department of Justice, which is charged with monitoring how well Federal entities react to FOIA requests, also failed to release the travel details of top officials at three of its affiliated agencies (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation) in accordance with the legal requirements and law.
•Some agencies tried to minimize FOIA compliance by illegally trying to charging requesters of information thousands of dollars for the information.
•According to the article, the Obama administration claimed almost half a million exemptions to the FOIA laws and guidelines in 2009, about 50% more exemptions claimed than in the final year of the Bush administration.
According to experts on government disclosure compliance:
•“When it comes to implementation of Obama’s wonderful transparency policy goals, especially FOIA policy in particular, there has been far more ‘talk the talk’ rather than ‘walk the walk,’” said Daniel Metcalfe, director of the Department of Justice’s office monitoring the government’s compliance with FOIA requests from 1981 to 2007.
•“I don’t think the administration has been very good at all on open-government issues,” said Katherine Meyer, a Washington attorney who has been filing open records requests since the late 1970s. “The Obama administration is as bad as any of them, and to some extent worse.”
•“In a 24/7 world, it should take two days, it should take two hours. If it’s public, it should be just there,” according to Eric Newton, senior adviser at the Knight Foundation (a Miami-based group that promotes citizen engagement). He said that agencies have no excuse not to rapidly disclose travel costs.
So it is not just national security that the Obama administration officials think should be shielded form the daylight of disclosure. Hardly the behavior you could have expected form a Presidential administration that claimed it would be the most transparent ever. Given these examples, it is clear that this group of politicians and bureaucrats from Obama on down will never receive an award for their transparency.
But wait…the Obama administration did get recognized for its transparency back in March of 2011.
But we do not know anything about the transparency award since the ceremony was closed to the press and the public, totally consistent with Obama‘s transparency failures. Another promise broken, to the detriment of freedom and liberty.
Photo credit: terrellaftermath
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