Report, Texas lawmakers call on Obama for transparency

By Daniel Lathrop
The Dallas Morning News
Originally published March 11, 2014

Following a nonpartisan study, Texas lawmakers from both political parties are calling on the Obama administration to provide the public with better access to information collected by the federal government.

A report Monday by the liberal Center for Effective Government found that only four of the 15 federal agencies that receive the most requests for public information deserved a “B,” none deserved an “A” and most of the reset flunked.

“The American people deserve openness and accountability from their government. The [group’s] report reveals that the Obama Administration, despite all of its promises, is not transparent and that big, bloated government is inefficient and unresponsive,” said U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in an emailed statement.

Sessions, who heads the House Rules Committee, is former head of the National Republican Congressional Committee and one of the most powerful figures in the Republican House majority.

“This administration has made a habit of selectively enforcing the law and it is time that it be held responsible for their actions. Republicans have worked to make the House of Representatives more open and accessible to every American and will continue to fight to hold the Administration to the same standard,” said Sessions.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said the report shows that federal agencies are not doing their job. He urged the U.S. Senate to pass Freedom of Information Act reforms that the House approved unanimously last month.

“It is important that the applicable federal agencies are efficient and transparent when responding to requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), so that the American people receive the information that lets them understand what their government is doing,” he said.

The report released Monday by the liberal Center for Effective Government comes five years after President Barack Obama pledged to create, “an unprecedented level of openness in Government.”

The report found every agency failing to meet achievable benchmarks in at least one of three areas: speed and completeness in answering requests, rules for access and creating user-friendly websites for public make requests.

“The low scores are not due to impossibly high expectations,” wrote the report’s authors.

The study found that the Social Security Administration did the best job, largely because it granted the highest percentage of requests and had average response time of 19 business-days, actually less than the 20 days mandated by federal law.

The worst performer was the U.S. State Department. The agency responded to only 1 percent of requests within the 20-day window and had a stunning 56 percent of all requests in a “backlog” awaiting action of any kind.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who oversaw state open records laws during his time as Texas Attorney General, said the federal government needed to take a page from Texas.

“Every one of our nation’s federal agencies ought to be accountable to the American taxpayers. Texas has been a leader in transparent governing, and it’s time for the federal government to follow our lead and live up to the promises of transparency that President Obama made when he took office,” he said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.