“My administration,” President Obama wrote on his first day in office, “is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.”
Those were strong and hopeful words. Four years later, it is becoming more and more clear that they were just words.
On Monday afternoon, open-government advocates assembled in a congressional hearing room to ponder what had become of the Obama administration’s lofty vows of transparency.
A Washington Post report from this past summer concluded that “by some measures the government is keeping more secrets than before.” Those making Freedom of Information Act requests in 2011 were less likely than in 2010 to get material from 10 of 15 Cabinet agencies, which were more likely to exploit the law’s exemptions.
Also, the National Declassification Center, which Obama established in 2009, had by the summer of 2012 reviewed only 14 percent of the pages it was assigned to review and declassify by the end of 2013.
Now the administration is maintaining silence as lawmakers prepare to pass one of the gravest threats to government transparency in years. A bill passed by the Senate intelligence committee would ban anybody but the top officials and public-relations staff at intelligence agencies from speaking to the media. The proposal, intended to crack down on classified leaks, would significantly set back freedom of the press, thwart whistle-blowers and squelch the airing of dissenting views on intelligence issues. This is part of a broader effort to make it a crime for national security officials to talk to reporters.