One of the country's largest and most powerful pro-Republican advocacy groups with ties to Karl Rove has launched an online clearinghouse for internal Obama administration documents to expose what it says is a failure by the president to be as transparent and open as promised.
The database at Wikicountability.org allows registered users to upload and search information obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, much as they would at sites like Wikipedia or Wikileaks.
Thousands of pages of information already in the wiki reveal expenses incurred by the administration in promoting its health care overhaul, dozens of meetings between Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and union leaders, and the pay and travel of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Elizabeth Warren. All the documents have been legally acquired, the site says.
The site also lists more than a half dozen outstanding FOIA requests, some dating to August 2010, despite a legal requirement that they be fulfilled within 20 days.
"President Obama's record on FOIA doesn't come anywhere near his lofty rhetoric," said Steven Law, president of Crossroads GPS, the Rove-backed nonprofit group that created the site.
Shortly after taking office in 2009, President Obama vowed to make his administration the most open and transparent in history and directed federal agencies to "usher in a new era of open government."
"Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing," Obama said at the time.
Two years later, several independent analyses show the administration has fallen short in meeting its goals.
A study released earlier this month by the National Security Archive at George Washington University and the Knight Foundation found that only about half of federal agencies had made changes in their FOIA procedures in response to Obama's directive.
"At this rate, the president's first term in office will be over by the time federal agencies do what he asked them to do on his first day in office," said Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation, which funded the study.
"Freedom of information laws exist to help all of us get the information we need for this open society to function. Yet government at all levels seems to have a great deal of trouble obeying its own transparency laws."
The unveiling of the site comes as Crossroads GPS today sued the Department of Health and Human Services for its alleged failure to comply with a Jan. 7, 2011, request for information on procedures for granting waivers under the health care reform law, which was enacted one year ago.
"Until President Obama is willing to grant the entire country a waiver from Obamacare, his administration needs to come clean on how they decide who wins and loses in the waiver lottery," Law said.
White House Says It's Transparent
The White House has said criticism of its disclosure practices belies the fact that it has voluntarily released information, precluding the need for the public to make requests, and fulfilled an overwhelming majority of all FOIA inquiries.
Officials say some outstanding requests may exist because an agency cannot find the records, the requestor failed to pay for copies, or the administration was legally exempt from disclosing records that reveal sensitive information about their "deliberative process" behind the scenes.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department unveiled FOIA.gov to explain the public information request process and highlight its efforts at eliminating the backlog of requests in the system.
The administration says it received more than 597,000 FOIA requests in 2010 -- up 82,000 from the year before -- and that it at least partially fulfilled 63 percent of them, with 11 percent still stuck in an administrative backlog.
The statistics "reveal that a trend is emerging in the way agencies implement the FOIA, demonstrating that a new culture of transparency is taking hold," the administration said in a statement at FOIA.gov.