FOIA documents

Things that are transparent: Saran Wrap, glass, water. Things that aren’t transparent: brick walls, mountains, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Or so it would seem, if you take a look at the CEQ’s response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request issued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in which the Chamber asked for the release of documents relating to agency records on global warming.

As the Chamber notes, “CEQ had identified 87 documents totaling 759 pages that were responsive to our request. HOWEVER, they could not release most of the documents because they ‘originated’ with another agency.”

So what did CEQ produce? An entirely blacked-out, redacted, Sharpie-markered e-mail, pictured above. (You can also take a look at a PDF of the document, courtesy of the Chamber.)

The Chamber says the response to their FOIA is astonishing, given President Barack Obama’s call for transparency beginning with day one in office:

On his very first full day in office, President Obama sent a memorandum to his executive agencies extolling the virtues of transparency and open government and directing them to facilitate public access to information. To further that directive, Obama issued a second memorandum encouraging agencies to “adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure” when responding to public requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA):

“The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. …In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public. All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.”

This isn’t the first case of a less-than-transparent White House.

In January, we wrote about another case of executive office stonewalling relating to the Justice Department’s dismissal of a voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther party. As Heritage’s Hans Von Spakovsky wrote, “The department has denied requests for information about the case from newspapers and members of Congress, and is refusing to comply with subpoenas issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.” Von Spakovsky detailed other cases of obfuscation, too.

Then there’s the lengthy behind-closed-doors health care reform negotiations that took place in January, despite President Obama’s repeated campaign pledge to broadcast meetings in public and on C-SPAN. Who was involved in those meetings? President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and nine other lawmakers. Separately, three union presidents also met behind-closed-doors with administration officials, presumably about health care. Politico noted: “Those involved in the talks sought to keep details of their progress under wraps.”

While Thursday’s lengthy health care summit took place in front of cameras, it occurred well after President Obama’s health care proposal was hammered out. Transparency came awfully late in the process.

Given the rash of stories about serious flaws in data and conclusions pertaining to global warming, policymakers must be open, honest and transparent about the underlying data that form the basis for calls to enact radical – and economically devastating – environmental policies. Openness should prevail, so the American people can be informed.