Opinion Pieces

Demanding transparency from the 'most transparent administration in history'

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Washington, November 25, 2015 | comments
President Obama famously pledged on the 2008 campaign trail to have the "most transparent administration in history." Seven years in, that commitment has led to little more than flowery language on whitehouse.gov.

The Obama administration has an abysmal record on openness to the press and the American people. Nowhere is it worse than the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

DHS currently boasts the largest backlog of any federal agency and, since the Obama administration took over, there has been a 182 percent increase in the number of FOIA requests at DHS. A November 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found DHS had over 50,000 backlogged FOIA requests due to mismanagement and duplicative efforts among the different departments at the agency.

The number of backlogged requests continues to rise each year and many requests are either ignored or improperly closed. In 2012, a Customs and Border Patrol manager found stacks of boxes of more than 12,000 FOIA requests that were snubbed and had never been processed. The Department was even rightfully given a D+ for its handling of FOIA requests by an independent watchdog, the Center for Effective Government.

At a recent Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing I questioned DHS Chief Privacy and FOIA Officer Karen Neuman about the FOIA process at the Department. Neuman admitted that day that "the FOIA backlog has more than doubled in part because [they've] received an enormous increase in the number of requests for Fiscal Year 2014." Neuman also confirmed that a "significant number of requests are requested for immigration records."

This means that it is likely this outrageous increase is partly thanks to supporters of amnesty, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, publicly encouraging those who would like to take advantage of the president's executive orders to request their immigration records through the FOIA process — whether they are here legally or not.

I believe FOIA requests from illegal immigrants taking advantage of unconstitutional programs should never stand in the way of transparency for the American people. That is why I introduced H.R. 1615, the DHS FOIA Efficiency Act of 2015, to require the Chief FOIA Officer at the Department of Homeland Security to make improvements and streamline the FOIA request process at DHS.

My legislation was passed unanimously in the House, but now it has met critics in the Senate who threaten to holdup this necessary and common sense legislation for fear of interfering with a larger FOIA reform bill. While I applaud this sentiment and support an overhaul of the FOIA system, we cannot continue to allow the agency with the largest FOIA backlog in the federal government to operate like this. It's time for the Senate to take up this bill and join the House in sending it to the president's desk.

In doing so, we can provide the desperately needed reforms to improve the process, eliminate duplication and significantly reduce the backlog at DHS while increasing transparency and accountability — two things this administration severely lacks.

Buddy Carter is a Republican representing Georgia's 1st congressional district.
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