‘The Lib­eral War on Trans­parency’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

THE LIB­ERAL WAR ON TRANS­PARENCY: CON­FES­SIONS OF A FREE­DOM OF IN­FOR­MA­TION ‘CRIM­I­NAL’ By Christo­pher C. Horner

Mr. Horner, a se­nior fel­low at the Com­pet­i­tive En­ter­prise In­sti­tute — a free-mar­ket think tank in Wash­ing­ton — re­calls the his­tory of the trans­par­ent­gov­ern­ment move­ment, which was lauded by pro­gres­sives such as Supreme Court Jus­tice Louis Bran­deis and Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt and cod­i­fied in FOIA un­der Lyn­don B. John­son.

Like­wise, mod­ern lib­er­als praise the “trans­parency” that re­sulted from sources such as Wik­iLeaks, the theft of of­fi­cial records re­lat­ing es­pe­cially to the Iraq War and Guan­tanamo Bay, call­ing it just the kind of open­ness needed for healthy gov­ern­ment. Mr. Horner em­pha­sizes the ex­is­tence of a dou­ble stan­dard by jour­nal­ists who be­lieve that trans­parency is only use­ful for scru­ti­niz­ing con­ser­va­tives — even if it re­quires rum­mag­ing through their trash. But when it comes to gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion from lib­eral politi­cians and left-wing causes, these erst­while muck­rak­ers find virtue in an am­bigu­ous gov­ern­ment.

The book re­counts the start of Barack Obama’s term of of­fice in 2009, when the pres­i­dent de­clared that his ad­min­is­tra­tion would be “the most trans­par­ent in his­tory.” The White House even is­sued memos in­struct­ing agen­cies to err on the side of trans­parency in FOIA re­quests. It did not, how­ever, take long for the other shoe to drop: Scan­dals, cover-ups and bad pub­lic­ity ne­ces­si­tated less trans­parency, lost and de­stroyed records, and sys­tem­atic cir­cum­ven­tion of the law.

One agency Mr. Horner re­peat­edly crit­i­cizes is the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, whose of­fi­cials were dis­cov­ered us­ing per­sonal email ac­counts to con­duct of­fi­cial busi­ness in or­der to avoid FOIA scru­tiny. Carol Browner, for­mer EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor and later en­ergy and en­vi­ron­ment “czar,” was caught hav­ing used two email ac­counts for her gov­ern­ment work — one for “of­fi­cial” busi­ness, and the other for off-the-record busi­ness.

Sim­i­larly, the au­thor chides the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, an agency that has been with­out an in­spec­tor gen­eral since Jan­uary 2011, for pre­screen­ing FOIA re­quests for pos­si­ble bad po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions.

He de­cries the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity’s front of­fice for no longer us­ing email, re­ly­ing solely on in-per­son and tele­phone com­mu­ni­ca­tion to avoid re­questable writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Mr. Horner ex­poses the prac­tice of White House staffers meet­ing with lob­by­ists in se­crecy at a nearby row house to avoid of­fi­cial visi­tor record keep­ing. Other ex­am­ples of sit­u­a­tions where of­fi­cials il­le­gally de­layed the re­lease of FOIA-cov­ered records (“lost” them or oth­er­wise made them dif­fi­cult to ob­tain by forc­ing re­searchers to seek court or­ders) is a list of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s po­lit­i­cal dirty laun­dry: Fast and Fu­ri­ous, TARP, the BP oil spill, the GM and Chrysler bailouts, the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board’s at­tack on Boe­ing, ACORN, czar ap­pointees, re­cess ap­point­ments, cap and trade, the Key­stone XL pipe­line and Solyn­dra.

In con­trast, cer­tain FOIA re­quests for in­for­ma­tion po­lit­i­cally fa­vor­able to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion achieved re­sponses as quickly as the same day.

Among the worst FOIA abuses Mr. Horner chron­i­cles are those by NASA and tax­payer-funded univer­sity cli­mate sci­en­tists who rou­tinely lost or de­stroyed im­por­tant sta­tis­ti­cal records and used per­sonal email ac­counts to thwart de­tailed in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

In­deed, the word “crim­i­nal” in the book’s ti­tle refers to a speech by cur­rent EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Lisa Jack­son, in which she as­serted that us­ing FOIA to seek records from gov­ern­ment­funded sci­en­tists was “crim­i­nal.”

Mr. Horner re­calls Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower’s farewell ad­dress in which he warned not just of a grow­ing mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex but of the un­healthy con­cen­tra­tion of the na­tion’s schol­ars and sci­en­tists in fed­eral em­ploy­ment. All the while, the me­dia re­main mostly silent, un­der­scor­ing again the lib­eral dou­ble stan­dard and un­der­min­ing the na­tion’s trust in its ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions.

Mr. Horner ends the book with a use­ful how-to guide for fil­ing one’s own FOIA re­quests, chock-full of wis­dom that comes only from years of trial, er­ror and ex­pe­ri­ence as an “in­for­ma­tion crim­i­nal.”

Over­all, “The Lib­eral War on Trans­parency” is an easy, in­ter­est­ing read with only a few mi­nor stylis­tic flaws. Ilya Shapiro is a se­nior fel­low in con­sti­tu­tional stud­ies at the Cato In­sti­tute, where James Schindler is a le­gal as­so­ciate.

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