In the article written July 17, 2014 – Putting WH Press Secretary Earnest claim of “most transparent” to the test – we attempted to determine just how transparent the Obama Administration is willing to be. To that end we sent a letter, provided in that article, to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). What has happened since may not surprise anyone.
First, we need to mention as we did in the July 2014 article, that this was not the first time we had sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the OMB. In March 2013 we sought out an answer that was denied to Jonathan Karl of ABC News, how much does a round of golf for the President cost? The result of contacting the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) was being told the OMB could answer our question. The OMB responded to our FOIA request, on April 17, 2013, stating that,
“In response to your FOIA request, OMB conducted a search of its files for documents that are responsive to the request and no records responsive to the request were identified.” – Dionne Hardy, FOIA Officer
Our full article on the response and the result of our inquiry can be found at OMB apparently believes Pres. Obama golf rounds are for free. What is critical is that the OMB did not identify any other Agency or Department of the government that would have the information, nor any legislation that would prevent providing the information we requested, which was part of our FOIA request.
But a year later, based on the comments of the new White House Press Secretary Josh Ernest, we tried again. We received a response from the OMB on July 31, 2014 – a day after publishing the article, One scandal to many for transparency?. The OMB stated,
“In response to your FOIA request, we note that the records/information you have asked for pertain to the White House and the Office of Management and Budget does not have records responsive to the request. As the White House is a separate office from the Office of Management and Budget, OMB does not hold the records that would be responsive to your request.” – Dionne Hardy, FOIA Officer
Notice that the same FOIA Officer for the OMB took 14 days to respond (an improvement of 7 days versus 2013) with a completely different answer to the same general question. In 2013 the OMB couldn’t find the answer and didn’t know anywhere else to have it found, implying they were the correct Department to get the answer from. In just over a year the response has now become a pass the buck game, sending us to the White House. Interestingly, the White House is not compelled to respond to FOIA requests.
Thus we have sent the same letter to the White House on 8/12/2014 @ 9:10AM.
We will give credit where it is due. The latest response from the OMB does note that the White House, and the White House alone apparently, holds the records of the cost of a round of golf for the President. This seems to fly in the face of the mission of the OMB,
“The core mission of OMB is to serve the President of the United States in implementing his vision across the Executive Branch… Budget development and execution, a significant government-wide process managed from the Executive Office of the President… Management — oversight of agency performance, Federal procurement, financial management, and information/IT.”
So as we await whatever response that the White House will give, we ponder the question of transparency. We have to consider the statement by Press Secretary Ernest and the message on the White House contact page that “President Obama is committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history.” Is this transparency?
In 2013 it certainly was not transparent. We were provided a brick wall, just as was Jonathan Karl. And we are left, so far, with the same conclusion that we came to in April 2013
“You might say this is not a big deal. But the New York Times doesn’t have the answer. Nor the Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post has zilch. Name the organization and you get nada. Even ABC News, that started this whole thing, remains oblivious to the truth.”
Still we hold out hope. Because even though the major media has given up on what should have been a simple matter, we believe that if our Government cannot be transparent and open enough to tell us something so trivial then it certainly is avoiding letting the public know about matters far more grave that no one has thought to ask about yet.