US government has never been so secretive

The U.S. Capitol stands in Washington, DC, U.S. January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

UNITED STATES (VOP TODAY NEWS) — Trump’s administration is the most opaque administration in all of American history. At least, this is precisely the conclusion that suggests, given how many censored documents she provided or did not provide – in response to 78% of requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) last year, according to an analysis of data from the Associated Press.

In 2018, the US government spent about $ 41 million to pay for legal services, defending its decision not to provide all the requested documents.

And on March 13 at a hearing in the Committee on the Supervision of the US House of Representatives, Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from the state of Maryland, said that the Justice Department, which monitors compliance with FOIA requirements, regards these requests as “obstacles.” Cummings argued that the Environmental Protection Agency intentionally ignored FOIA requests.

The Interior Ministry disclosed 58% less data than it did during the last year of the Obama administration, and Deputy Interior Minister David Bernhardt does not publish accurate information about his daily schedule on the ministry’s website, he noted. Thus, according to information in the open graphics of Bernhardt, on September 22, 2017, he was to have a “meeting to discuss energy issues,” Cummings said.

At the same time, there was no data about the participants of the meeting. However, according to Cummings, if you study the data of visiting ministry journals, Bernhardt met with Jack Gerard, then he served as CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.

Delay on delay

Melanie Ann Pustay, director of the Information Policy Department of the Ministry of Justice, told the committee that in 2017 the federal government received approximately 820,000 requests within the FOIA, 40,000 more than the 2016 record year. As Poustau notes, this figure, which has been growing steadily since 2009, will increase again this year.

Rachel Spector, Acting Deputy Head of the FOIA Ministry of the Interior, told the committee that from 2016 the total number of requests increased by 30%, and in the minister’s office – by 210%.

The head of FOIA Environmental Protection Agency, Timothy Epp, noted that the agency received 1,115 more requests under FOIA in 2017 and 961 more requests in 2018 than in 2016, with 2,761 requests under consideration.

Committee member Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, argued that the Obama administration had a “row” of noticeable problems with the FOIA; it “sought to abide by the law.” And the huge number of requests within the FOIA that the Trump administration is facing is the result of actions by activists acting against the current US administration, he said.

According to Jordan, the flow of customers “is paid for by Tom Steyers pursuing executive power.” Republican Clay Higgins blamed the “organized movement of activists that intends to thwart” the Trump administration.

“For the Americans I spoke with, FOIA is a legitimate tool that can be used against the current president,” he said.

In fact, according to Gustav, the increase in requests within FOIA can be primarily explained by the increased interaction between the government and citizens.

Under Barack Obama, not everything was perfect. In 2016, all those who sent requests within FOIA received censored documents or received nothing at all in 77% of cases. In the first full year of Obama, this figure was 65%.

And, despite the fact that, as a percentage, the situation under the Trump regime is almost the same, John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, believes that the Trump administration “is clearly worse off.”

Trump’s refusal to publish his personal tax returns, his press antagonism, lack of information and resources on climate change, LGBT issues and the Affordable Health Care Act on federal websites, speak of “general contempt and unwillingness to disclose information to the public”, said Wonderlich.

Nate Jones, director of the Freedom of Information Act of the National Security Archives in Washington, an independent non-profit organization, said: “There is bad news and good news. The bad news is that the oldest requests in the government are almost 25 years old, the number of unanswered requests is growing, and it often takes more than a year for agencies to process requests. The good news is that today at the hearing it turned out that the representatives focused on the cause of these errors.”

This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for VOP from different countries around the world – edited and published by VOP staff in our newsroom.

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