White House Refuses To Be Transparent About Positions On Transparency

from the not-transparent-about-transparency dept

As we well know, despite promises from the Obama administration that it would be "the most transparent" in history, it has been anything but that over its first four years. The US Trade Rep (USTR) has been particularly bad on this front, especially when it comes to trade agreements that will have a massive impact on the public, such as ACTA and TPP. No matter how many times they were asked by the public, by Congress and by other countries, the USTR kept insisting that it had to keep things secret because... well... just because. There were some excuses made about how they don't "negotiate in public" or about how "this is how it's always been done," but those don't make any sense when you look at the details. It became especially silly in the ACTA negotiations, late in the process, when many of the countries involved indicated that they wished things were more transparent and many pointed their fingers at the US as being the one country that kept things secret. Also, we know that other international agreements are done in a much more transparent fashion.

The folks at KEI filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents relating to the US's position on transparency regarding a particular ACTA meeting, as well as documents the US had on the positions of other countries. FOIA requests are supposed to be fulfilled within 20 business days from the time they're received. In practice, this time frame is almost never met, though sometimes for good reasons (it takes a while to do some of the searches). However, in this case, it took two and a half years for the White House to finally respond, and when it did, the response was that, while 16 relevant documents were found, it wouldn't release them, because of reasons.

More specifically:
With regard to the second category, we identified sixteen (16) pages of responsive records. We have determined that all 16 pages of responsive records are exempt from disclosure under the deliberative process prong of section of the FOIA. The deliberative process privilege protects the decision making processes of government agencies by encouraging open and frank discussions on policy matters among subordinates and superiors. These records contain predecisional discussions regarding negotiating positions and their implications on future negotiations. Moreover, these documents contain policy recommendations and opinions shared between subordinates and superiors.
Think about this for a second. This is a request to be transparent about positions on transparency, and they're being rejected because it may show discussions about transparency. Really. The fact that these discussions "may contain open and frank discussions on policy matters" shouldn't be a huge concern. The ACTA negotiations are done at this point, and it should be easy enough to redact other issues that might impact future policy efforts. It seems ridiculous to suggest that discussions on whether or not the US should be transparent are, themselves, not subject to transparency.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Shmerl, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 4:52pm

    When it comes to the public, the government likes to repeat the mantra that those who have nothing bad hide shouldn't worry about transparency (i.e. surveillance). So should the public use government's own logic to make conclusions about what they are hiding?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 5:11pm

    Re:

    "Do as we say, not as we do."

    The USTR may as well go ahead and rename themselves to USSR. They're only one letter away as is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 5:21pm

    This is a request to be transparent about positions on transparency, and they're being rejected because it may show discussions about transparency.

    Someday, when the White House lawn is ashes, and the capitol buildings are rubble, I'll be watching as the rebels start executing the bureaucrats. Then I'll remember that time the former government refused to be transparent about its position on transparency, and I'll smile as I watch their bloody corpses drop.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    weneedhelp - not signed in, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 6:04pm

    Re:

    Sorry but the future I predict is instead you will be climbing over rebel corpses(Citizens) while the bureaucrats hide behind the military and national police force (State police are taking over small/medium townships left and right around here) while using all those horrific war toys we paid for against us.

    The first civil war was fought with muskets and cannons, the second one will be a slaughter with weapons never seen.

    I hope I am wrong.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 6:10pm

    Isn't not being transparent on transparentcy itself an answer?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 6:20pm

    Re: Re:

    Most of the "small" government folks actually want to increase military spending, so the government should be pretty well protected against whatever citizen revolution there is supposed to be. And most of those who threaten revolution aren't likely to give up their jobs, walk away from their homes and families, and put their lives on the line anyway.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 6:30pm

    No re-veally, no pay-uppy

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Matthew Cline (profile), Jan 10th, 2013 @ 7:29pm

    The deliberative process privilege protects the decision making processes of government agencies by encouraging open and frank discussions on policy matters among subordinates and superiors.
    "If people in the government who discuss issues of transparency knew that what they said could be publicly viewed, it would discourage them from discussing how to oppose and hinder transparency."

    Is there any other way to interpret invoking the deliberative process privilege? Because I can't think of any.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2013 @ 7:41pm

    To fill in the blanks

    "16 relevant documents were found, it wouldn't release them, because" those documents are embarrassing to the U.S. government industrial complex.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 1:48am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Especially when we have no more guns.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 4:46am

    Re:

    Absolutely.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 4:48am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Maybe the next revolution will not be fought with guns ...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 5:08am

    Transparency

    We can all see right through that statement.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Mark Harrill (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 5:51am

    1984...

    George Orwell would be so proud. We've always been at war with Oceania...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 6:50am

    They said prong.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 11:07am

    Have you seen this XLS, entitled: Who gets to see the secret TPP negotiating text?

    http://sojo.net/sites/default/files/Who%20gets%20to%20see%20the%20secret%20TPP%20negotiatin g%20text-current%206-22-12.xls

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Jan 17th, 2013 @ 2:35pm

    Re:

    Nice intel. This should be a TechDirt article by itself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Jose_X, Jan 27th, 2013 @ 11:35am

    our private thoughts

    Although the example sounds funny (lack of transparency about transparency), if we associate a corporation or government with a person, then internal strategic discussions are among the most private. It's at least somewhat like legal or medical privileged information or a person trying to decide among several options (ie, debating in their mind) about how to proceed before finally picking something and then not blogging on the details of the discussion they had in their head as they debated pros/cons. We don't expect people generally to reveal all their thoughts, so this is the same concept if we associate a single legal entity composed of many humans as being treated similarly to a single human.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Jose_X, Jan 27th, 2013 @ 12:20pm

    Re: our private thoughts

    I should clarify. I can understand some items not being open, but, once a decision is made, just as judges give their rationalizations, the agencies should be able to offer their public rationalization.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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