On Monday, March 15, the Department of Justice celebrated the first anniversary of Attorney General Eric Holder's 2009 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guidelines. Issued this week last year, the Attorney General's guidelines were supposed to usher in President Obama's "new era of open government" by establishing a "criteria governing the presumption of disclosure" and creating "effective systems for responding to requests." After a year under the new guidelines, Judicial Watch has experienced little improvement in government transparency or accountability.

Held in the Great Hall at the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, the "celebration" was roughly an hour long, and featured several self congratulations by FOIA representatives from the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Office of the United States Trade Representative. Attorney General Eric Holder made some short remarks touting the Justice Department's work in creating a new era of transparency. According to Mr. Holder, President Obama has "delivered" on his pledge "to restore the sacred bond of trust that should exist between our nation's government and its citizens." Holder also announced that the Justice Department will present an Open Government Plan on April 7th. The celebration did not feature a question and answer portion.

Judicial Watch has not encountered the idyllic open government that Eric Holder referenced in his celebratory remarks. In fact, the Justice Department, and specifically the Attorney General's Office, has stonewalled Judicial Watch in a number of recent FOIA requests. Last month, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Justice to obtain documents related to Eric Holder's decision to prosecute terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 conspirators in New York federal court. The lawsuit is the result of a complete failure by the Attorney General's Office to comply with the statutory requirement to respond within a 20-day time period. Judicial Watch's experience demonstrates that noncompliance is common practice with the Attorney General's Office.

Monday's celebrants highlighted their accomplishments, without addressing or even acknowledging any problems with Obama administration transparency (other than the occasional ‘there is more work left to be done' comment). In fact, a recent analysis finds that government secrecy has actually increased under Obama. Indeed, the first year of the Obama administration is ripe with examples of absent accountability and selective transparency. From the secrecy surrounding Obama's czars, to the backroom deals in the health care legislation, there is little cause for celebration over a "new era of open government."

 


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