Inspector General report: Administration slow walked record requests; attacked Judicial Watch
According to a report by the inspector general of the General Services Administration, Obama administration political operatives continuously slow walked open records requests and punished the legal group Judicial Watch for their activism.
Judicial Watch has several FOIA lawsuits against the administration and in every case, the administration sought to delay complying with the requests, even going so far as to overcharge the group for fees related to the searches.
The GSA botched several high-profile open records requests, delaying them for months while political appointees got involved, Inspector General Carol F. Ochoa said. The findings were released while the administration was facing charges of slow-walking open records requests for Hillary Clinton’s emails, as well as other requests.
In the case of Judicial Watch, the order to strip it of media status came from political operatives with long ties to Democratic causes — and even from the White House.
The inspector general said the decision came at the behest of Gregory Mecher, a former Democratic campaign fundraiser who at the time was liaison to the White House. He is married to Jen Psaki, a longtime spokeswoman with the Obama administration and its election campaigns.
Ms. Ochoa said stripping Judicial Watch of media status violated several agency policies and things got worse when the GSA denied an appeal by the group.
The same person who ruled on the initial request also ruled on the appeal, “contrary to GSA procedures,” the inspector general said.
Judicial Watch ended up suing over the request, the agency finally agreed to waive all fees and even ended up paying Judicial Watch $750 as part of the settlement.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, questioned the agency’s decision to fight a losing case that ended up costing it money.
“It’s outrageous but not surprising. Welcome to our world. This is what we put up with all the time from the agencies,” he said.
President Obama promised an era of transparency when it came to open records requests under the Freedom of Information Act, which is the chief way for Americans to pry loose data from the federal government.
Despite the president’s exhortations, the government is increasingly fighting requests, forcing the public to file lawsuits to look at information.
Last year, the administration spent $31.3 million to fight FOIA cases — more than twice the $15.4 million the administration spent in 2008, the final year under President George W. Bush.
Most of these suits are unnecessary. All the agencies have to do is obey the law. Judge after judge has ruled in favor of Judicial Watch requests, with most of them eventually chastizing agencies for their slow progress in abiding by their decisions.
From what we know about documents already obtained by Judicial Watch, these agencies had good reason to refuse to hand over information on administration scandals. They point the finger at political appointees and bureaucrats who engaged in illegal or improper actions.
It is likely that Judicial Watch will still be pursuing these documents long after Barack Obama leaves office.