“A closed meeting on openness”

The AP has a hard-edged story bringing the news that a hall full of federal employees will be attending a Freedom of Information Act training meeting today put on in part by the Office of Government Information Services. But, the AP pointedly notes, the meeting will be closed to outsiders—presumably including their reporters.

Seeing what’s going on at the meeting could have been interesting, given that OGIS is pretty much brand new and is still gearing up and finding its exact role as the federal government’s internal mediator and ombudsman of contentious FOIA requests.

While the closed workshop is a sexy (as these things go!) frame for the story, the article’s real value comes in its check-up on the government’s post-January 20, 2001 FOIA record. The AP finds many requests where it hasn’t exactly been forthcoming:

Those include what cars people were buying using the $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program (it turned out the most frequent trades involved pickups for pickups with only slightly better gas mileage); how many times airplanes have collided with birds (a lot); whether lobbyists and donors meet with the Obama White House (they do); rules about the interrogation of terror suspects (the FBI and CIA disagreed over what was permitted); and who was speaking in private with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (he has close relationships with a cadre of Wall Street executives whose multibillion-dollar companies survived the economic crisis with his help).

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.