OMB Watch Analysis Finds Obama Administration Slowly Rebuilding Government's FOIA Performance

-For Immediate Release-
March 16, 2011

Contact: Brian Gumm, (202) 683-4812,

OMB Watch Analysis Finds Obama Administration Slowly Rebuilding Government's FOIA Performance

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2011—Today, OMB Watch released an initial analysis of the Obama administration's performance on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) implementation based on federal agency annual reports under the act. Though some progress has been made, the analysis shows that the federal government is still in a rebuilding phase when it comes to FOIA openness.

Sean Moulton, Director of Federal Information Policy at OMB Watch, said, "It appears that 2010, the first full year of reporting under the Obama administration, may be a turning point on FOIA implementation."

"Several openness indicators have improved from previous years, some after many years of steady decline. However, most of the indicators are still worse than during the Bush administration, a period known for its secrecy," Moulton noted, adding that it is hard to turn the ship of state around immediately.

Several key findings of the analysis include:


  • The number of FOIA requests pending at the end of the fiscal year dropped dramatically since 2008 – by more than half. This was a stated high priority for the Obama administration and it appears to have had an impact.
  • The percentage of FOIA requests fully granted saw a slight increase after many years of decline, which is an indicator of openness.
  • The percentage of requests denied based on exemptions declined, continuing a decline begun in 2009.
  • Use of exemptions 2 (internal agency rules), 5 (inter-agency memos), both considered largely discretionary, along with 6 (personal privacy), 7c (personal privacy law enforcement), and 7e (techniques for prosecution) decreased from 2009.


  • The use of these exemptions – 2, 5, 6, 7c, 7e – is still higher than 2008 and most preceding years.
  • The percentage of requests fully granted remains well below its peak from 1998-2002.

The analysis notes that there are a variety of constraints on the data used to assess FOIA performance, including revised reporting guidelines and some changes to government agencies themselves. The analysis also makes clear that looking at backlogs and FOIA request denials is only one way of gauging the federal government's FOIA performance.

The full text of the analysis, including data charts and methodology, is available at

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OMB Watch is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting government accountability, citizen participation in public policy decisions, and the use of fiscal and regulatory policy to serve the public interest. Find OMB Watch on Facebook and Twitter.

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