Posts Tagged ‘State Department’


FOI Daily Dose: Federal government stalls Bloomberg News request for travel budgets; Seattle Times reporter featured on SPJ blog wins public records award

Federal government stalls Bloomberg News request for travel budgets

Bloomberg News reporters are calling out the federal government for stalling numerous records requests, including a recent request for details about out-of-town trips taken by the heads of 57 major departments in fiscal year 2011.

Bloomerg cited special interest in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s travel budget since a State Department website called “Travels with the Secretary” shows she visited 112 countries and logged 956,733 miles. But the bill to taxpayers for her travels is not listed.

Clinton visited 46 countries during fiscal year 2011 that Bloomberg News requested records for. The news organization filed the request last year, and as of July 12, they’re still waiting for about one-fifth of the departments to respond, including five cabinet offices that have yet to fully comply.

Under Freedom of Information Act, agencies have 20 working days to provide data or offer a timeline for its delivery once a request is filed. The State Department said the request for Clinton’s information may be available next month. Other cabinet offices say it could take until September.

Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, said he doesn’t know what is taking the offices so long to collect the information Bloomberg News requested.

“These are exactly the kinds of records cabinet offices should have at their fingertips,” Blanton told Bloomberg News. “You should not even have to ask for these records. They should be online already.”

Bloomberg News said they filed the request last year as “a test of President Barack Obama’s pledge to run the most open government in history.”

“FOIA is the way for journalists and the American people to know how officials are spending taxpayer dollars, and these delays are an ugly blemish on claims of transparent government,”  Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Bloomberg News.

Seattle Times reporter featured on SPJ blog wins public records award

Mike Carter, a criminal-justice reporter for the Seattle Times, earned a public records award for his 11-month pursuit of a police memo, the Times announced.

The Washington Coalition for Open Government presented Carter with a Key Award on June 12 to recognize his perseverance in the fight for a Seattle Police Department memo the department claimed did not exist. When Carter confronted the police after waiting 11 months for them to fulfill his records request, they admitted to withholding the memo and gave the Times a $20,000 settlement to avoid a lawsuit.

For more information about Mike Carter and his public records pursuit, see our June 13 blog post.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI DAILY DOSE: GAO turns 90; transparency problems apparent in White House, State Dept.

90 candles for the GAO

The Government Accountability Office can blow out 90 candles for its birthday this month.

Since its creation in 1921, the GAO has been keeping watch over government spending. It oversees how taxpayer funds are used and how money is spent on everything from the Iraq war to NASA’s latest project.

The GAO was known as the General Accounting Office for the better part of its existence before former comptroller David Walker changed its name to the Government Accountability Office in 2004.

Check out the anniversary video the GAO has released about its long history.

State Dept. slacking on FOIA requests

Despite President Obama’s calls for government agencies to become more efficient in responding to FOIA requests, some are still lagging behind in their response times – particularly the State Department, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

CPI received notices from the State Department asking it to withdraw requests from 2007 that have yet to be completed.

The documents in question were requested by former CPI reporter Devin Varsalona for a story on how Obama and other presidents traditionally provide diplomatic postings to major donors. Many of the journalist’s requests were still unfilled when the story was published in 2008.

This isn’t the first time the State Department has been called out for being unresponsive regarding transparency issues like FOIA requests. As of March 10, the State Department still had not provided a final response to Obama’s memo on open government according to a National Security Archive study.

White House meetings not as transparent as promised

The Obama administration is supposedly in favor of transparency – but not if they’re talking about debt reduction.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a press briefing June 30 that the executive branch was so serious about reaching a debt-reduction deal with Congress that it would hold meetings without notifying the press corps about them.

Carney did backtrack during the press briefing, saying that there aren’t meetings with major leaders that are kept secret even though not all presidential meetings are publicly noted.

Obama met with House Speaker John Boehner Sunday – but the White House meeting wasn’t on his public schedule. Politico writer David Rogers was the first to report the meeting on Tuesday, but Carney would neither confirm nor deny news of the meeting on Wednesday.

He also justified the secrecy surrounding meetings by arguing that reaching a solid budget deal was more important and that having up-to-date information on presidential meetings is of little concern to members of the general public, according to Politico.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

 

FOI Links: Oil spill help from overseas “under consideration” and hiding company misconduct

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