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Sunshine week 2020 redux

April 17, 2020

To the Editor:

Just finished reading the Sunshine Week article which reviewed and graded our public officials and how committed they were, to not only the intent, but also the spirit of a transparent government with adherence to the access of public records.

Some suggestions to the author(s?). First, stick to the facts, all of the facts without embellishments and don’t substitute opinion. Second, leave off the sophomoric name-calling and cutesy nicknames. Lastly, don’t be so obvious as to your political leanings — taking Democrats to task while letting Republicans off with a mild wrist slap.

For example, President Trump’s “Average” rating is really a gift. Excusing his removal of quantities of public information from websites with a “but so far as we can tell it was partisan rubbish.” Well sorry, but that is just your opinion and now other people won’t be able to judge for themselves. OK, according to data analysis by the Associated Press, the Trump administration is the least transparent in American history. People who asked for records under the Freedom of Information Act received censored files or nothing in 78% of 823,222 requests. When it provided no records, the government said it could find no information related to the request in a little over half those cases. The U.S. government spent approximately $41 million on legal fees in 2018 defending its decisions to withhold requested documents, also a modern record. The Interior Department proactively disclosed 58% less data than it did during 2016. The Justice Department’s Office of Information had received roughly 820,000 FOIA requests in 2017, about 40,000 more than the then-record it received in 2016. The EPA has received 1,115 more FOIA requests in 2017 and 961 more FOIA requests in 2018 than it did in 2016, with 2,761 currently backlogged.

The U.S. government has never been more secretive than it is right now. Indeed, in this time of national crisis information is critical. It was pointed out in the “Sunshine” review that this administration’s agencies have crafted rules to deny FOI’s as “unreasonably burdensome or vague”. That top-level meetings of the CDC and FEMA are to be considered classified. Somehow all of this was viewed as excusable and The Lakeland Times awarded Trump an “Average” rating. Statistics on the number of COVID-19 cases, number of deaths, number of respirators, face masks, etc are withheld, skewed by this administration or not released. For instance, the reporting of job losses has become so sensitive that the United States Department of Labor sent an email to state officials asking them to only use loose terms like “very high” or “large increase” when talking about unemployment rates and asked state labor officials to delay releasing the precise number of unemployment claims.

Holy Hanna, what would it take for The Lakeland Times to give Trump and “Average-minus” rating? Go figure!

John Kocovsky


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