FOIA fail: 'Most transparent ever' Obama administration spent $36million to hide records in 2016
14 Mar, 2017
The Obama administration granted less than a quarter of public requests for government files in its last year in office and spent $36.2 million on legal battles to keep its files secret, according to a new transparency report compiled for “Sunshine Week.”
Having aspired to be “the most transparent administration in history” at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term, it instead set records for denying, delaying or obstructing requests for government records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Associated Press reported on Tuesday, citing analysis of data provided by the US government.
The Justice Department spent $12 million on legal costs in fighting to keep its files from the public, with the Department of Homeland Security spending $6.3 million and the Department of Defense spending $4.8 million, AP noted. The three departments received more than half of the total FOIA requests made in 2016.
The Obama administration set many FOIA records last year, from the number of requests received (788,769) to the amount spent on answering them ($478 million). There were 4,263 full-time FOIA employees across over 100 federal agencies, 142 people more than in 2015.
Other achievements were less flattering, however – such as breaking its own record from 2015 in telling citizens, journalists and others who made FOIA requests that they couldn’t find a single page of the requested files, AP reported without citing the number of such cases.
The previous administration also set records for denying access to files, refusing to quickly process requests described as particularly newsworthy, and denying requests for waivers of copy and research fees.
In 77 percent of the cases, people who asked for records in 2016 received partly or fully redacted files, compared to 65 percent in 2009.
AP’s revelations come during “Sunshine Week,” an event organized in March each year by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public on the importance of open government.
Under the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, individuals can request copies of federal records for free or at a nominal cost. The government is obligated to hand them over, unless the disclosure could harm national security, violate personal privacy, or expose confidential decision-making – exemptions that authorities often abuse, according to critics.
“I will hold myself as president to a new standard of openness,” Obama said upon assuming office in 2009. “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”
During the 2015 Sunshine Week, the White House exempted itself from the FOIA.
Did President Barack Obama "steal" $500 billion from Medicare?
By Angie Drobnic Holan
Monday, September 12th, 2011
At a debate in Tampa, the Republican presidential candidates were asked this stumper by a Florida tea party supporter: How do you convince senior citizens that Social Security and Medicare need to be changed and still get their vote?
Bachmann said she had both the government experience and the private-sector experience to understand how the programs should be changed, but she offered few specifics.
She also took the opportunity to criticize the new health care law championed by President Barack Obama, saying, "We know that President Obama stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to switch it over to Obamacare."
We've looked into this topic previously, though we haven't heard the specific allegation that the money was "stolen."
We'll begin with a review of how the new health care law handles funding for Medicare and for the new parts of the law.
To begin with, the health care law leaves in place the major insurance systems: employer-provided insurance, Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for the poor. It attempts to reduce the number of uninsured by expanding Medicaid for the very poor and by offering tax breaks to help people with modest incomes buy insurance. Individuals are required to have insurance or pay a penalty, a mechanism called the "individual mandate." And companies that don't offer insurance to employees have to pay fines, with exceptions for small business and a few other cases.
The national health care reform law also made several changes to Medicare, which makes up roughly 12 percent of the federal budget.
In a few cases, the law actually increased Medicare spending to provide more benefits and coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a trusted independent source that analyzes the health care system. For instance, the health care law added money to cover prevention services and to fill a gap for enrollees who purchase prescription drugs through the Medicare Part D program. (That coverage gap is often referred to as the doughnut hole.)
Other parts of the law are intended to reduce future growth in Medicare spending, to encourage more efficiency and to improve the delivery and quality of care. (An example is paying hospitals less when patients are quickly re-admitted to hospitals after being discharged, to prevent people from being discharged too soon.)
The bill doesn't take money out of the current Medicare budget but, rather, it attempts to slow the program's future growth, curtailing just over $500 billion in anticipated spending increases over the next 10 years. Medicare spending will still increase, however. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects Medicare spending will reach $929 billion in 2020, up from $499 billion in actual spending in 2009.
So while the health care law reduces the amount of future spending growth in Medicare, the law doesn't cut current funding for Medicare.
Still, where does the $500 billion in future savings come from?
Nearly $220 billion comes from reducing annual increases in payments that health care providers would otherwise receive from Medicare. Other savings include $36 billion from increases in premiums for higher-income beneficiaries and $12 billion from administrative changes. A new national board -- the Independent Payment Advisory Board -- will be tasked to identify $15.5 billion in savings, but the board is prohibited from proposing anything that would ration care or reduce or modify benefits. Then there's another $136 billion in projected savings that would come from changes to the Medicare Advantage program, an alternative to traditional Medicare that has turned out to be much more costly than expected. About 25 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan.
If you disregard the incendiary word "stole," it is true that savings from Medicare help pay for other parts of the health care law. That's because Democrats wanted to make sure they did not increase the federal deficit with the new health law. The savings from Medicare offset new spending resulting from the health care bill.
Mostly, the new spending in the health care law comes from tax credits to help people of modest incomes buy health insurance and from expanding Medicaid to offer coverage to the poor. The tax credits and other cost-sharing subsidies are estimated to cost $350 billion over 10 years, while the Medicaid expansion costs $434 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Those two initiatives add up to more than $500 billion. So in addition to reducing future Medicare spending, the law also increases Medicare taxes on the wealthy and creates new fees for the health care industry, as well as a few other things, to come up with the needed sums.
Now, to address the word "stole." The money was not stolen in any literal sense of the word. Congress passed the law through its normal process, and the cost reductions for Medicare were out in the open during the many weeks that the final law was being negotiated.
Bachmann said that, "We know that President Obama stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to switch it over to Obamacare." There is a small amount of truth in her statement in that future savings from Medicare are planned to offset new costs created by the law. But the law attempts to curtail the rapid growth of future Medicare spending, not cut current funding. Additionally, the money was not "stolen." Congress reduced spending on a program through its normal legislative process. That kind of rhetoric is deceptive, and it undermines Bachmann's basic point. We rate her statement Mostly False. (some truth!)*******