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Transparency advocates downgrade Obama performance

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President Obama promised much but delivered little in the way of official transparency during his first term, according to participants in an annual conference of advocates for more open and accountable government.

The conference was held at the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, D.C. and was entitled "Collaboration on Government Secrecy." The conference is hosted by law professor and former Department of Justice Office of Information and Privacy director Dan Metcalfe. The 2013 gathering marked the fifth time participants in the event assessed the Obama administration's performance on improving transparency and accountability in the federal government.

"We had a good time the first year, and then the following three years we had an annual assessment," Metcalfe told the Washington Free Beacon's C.J. Ciaramella. "And that's when the disappointment began to set in."

Washington Examiner executive editor Mark Tapscott - who is a member of the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame - was a panelist for the conference.

Obama promised "the most open and transparent administration in history" on his first day in office, then followed that promise with a Department of Justice memorandum to all federal agencies that "the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails."

But throughtout the day, conference participants described their disappointment as less transparency rather than more became evident, according to Ciaramella:

"'They put effort into crafting these regulations, but they don't put effort into forcing the behemoth of government to adopt them,' said Nate Jones, FOIA coordinator for the National Security Archives.

"A government-wide audit performed by the National Security Archives in December found 62 of 99 federal agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations since Holder issued the memorandum.

"FOIA regulations for federal agencies were hard to find, inconsistently located, and in some cases apparently non-existent, said National Security Archives personnel.

"'We ended up having to send 18 FOIA requests to agencies just to try and get their FOIA regulations,' said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archives. 'Surprisingly, we got a couple of 'no responsive documents' denials.'

"The audit also revealed that 56 agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations since the passage of the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which mandated agencies retool their FOIA offices, including fee structures and reporting.

"Holder has done little to implement his guidelines four years after issuing them, and his Justice Department has defended all agencies that chose to withhold information from the public, a report on FOIAproject.org found."

For more from Ciaramella on the conference and the Obama record on transparency issues, go here.

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