In its first year, the Obama administration vowed an increase in transparency across government, including through the Freedom of Information Act; the proactive release of documents; and the establishment of a new agency to declassify more than 370 million pages of archived material.
Three years later, new evidence suggests that administration officials have struggled to overturn the long-standing culture of secrecy in Washington. Some of these high-profile transparency measures have stalled, and by some measures the government is keeping more secrets than before.
Media organizations and individuals requesting information under FOIA last year were less likely to receive the material than in 2010 at 10 of the 15 Cabinet-level departments, according to an analysis of annual reports of government agencies by The Washington Post.
The trends appear to run against the direction set out by the president in the earliest days of his government. On his first full day in office, Jan. 21, 2009, President Obama issued a presidential memo on freedom of information, telling agencies: “The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”
Since then, the Post analysis shows, progress has stalled and, in the case of most departments, reversed in direction. The analysis showed that the number of requests denied in full due to exemptions rose more than 10 percent last year, to 25,636 from 22,834 the previous year.
Similarly, the pledge to declassify archived material has run into major delays. The National Declassification Center (NDC) was established by the president in December 2009 to review and declassify 371 million pages of material by December 2013.
In its latest progress report, issued last month, the center said that it had completed the review process for 51.1 million pages, less than 14 percent of the total. Of that number, 41.8 million pages were made available to researchers and the public.