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Pandering, Priority or Political Weapon: Presidencies, Political Parties & the Freedom of Information Act
Communication Law and Policy  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-01-27, DOI: 10.1080/10811680.2021.1856603
A. Jay Wagner

Politics have a profound influence on the design and administration of nearly all government laws and policies. And the executive branch, a highly political institution, is given significant latitude in shaping the primary mechanism for accessing government information, the Freedom of Information Act. This article explores the political nature of the FOIA by examining legislative history, party messaging, presidential actions and a quantitative analysis of FOIA use and implementation from 1975 until the present. The outcomes are both predictable — Presidents Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump having poor records — and surprising — President George W. Bush producing a relatively transparent record. The study’s findings suggest the failures of FOIA are likely less a consequence of presidencies and political parties than an indiscriminate symptom of contemporary U.S. governance.