No excuse for missing documents

It is illegal for government officials to refuse to turn over most official documents to anyone who asks for them. Yet President Barack Obama’s administration has set new records in failing to turn documents over to journalists and in dragging its feet, sometimes for years, when it does comply.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the administration also has set a record for the number of times people asking for records were told they could not be located.

During the president’s seven years in office, the response to 128,825 requests for documents was that they could not be found. That amounts to one-sixth of the total number of queries for federal government records during that period, according to The Associated Press.

Take your pick: Either a large number of government officials are lying – not turning information over because they don’t want to – or this is one of the most disorganized bureaucracies in history.

Few private citizens seek access to government records. Most of the time Freedom of Information Act filings are by journalists. That, some may think, means failure to comply is not their problem.

But it is. Most news media requests for documents are made because journalists think the records contain information the public needs to know. Frequently, FOIA filings are prompted by suspicion of wrongdoing. So when the government says no – by whatever method – it is the public being kept in the dark.

How unacceptable is the excuse that many records could not be found? Ask yourself this: What would happen if the Internal Revenue Service demanded documents from you – and you responded that you couldn’t find them?

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