WITH GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY very much in the spotlight in recent months, it’s no surprise that agencies’ lobbying disclosure is under scrutiny. As LobbyBlog wrote back in July, six different government agencies, including the NSA, FBI, and CIA, rebuffed requests for lobbying disclosure forms, instead advising POLITICO to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which can sometimes take years to be answered.
Now, POLITICO reports that the CIA is flatly refusing to disclose lobbying reports by its contractors. They do so on the grounds that the reports, the “existence or nonexistence” of which the agency would not confirm, may or may not contain classified information.
In addition to the standard lobbying disclosures that must be filed with the Senate or House, there is a supplemental form that must also be submitted by any company that has received money from the federal government. Despite the fact that this form is filed with the Office of Management and Budget, the OMB claims that it doesn’t collect information from the forms:
OMB does not collect information from the public through the SF-LLL; for details about the use of information collected with a specific form, OMB would refer you to the relevant agency issuing the form…
Of course, as the CIA makes clear, there is little accountability and no transparency for these agencies, and the only way to obtain lobbying disclosure information is through cumbersome and expensive FOIA requests. As Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation notes, “this is one of these strange things where the federal government has laws on the books that they don’t follow themselves….”
It would seem the only way to turn government opacity into transparency is through specific legislation prohibiting the loopholes and gray areas that federal agencies are using to hide lobbying disclosures. But even then, it’s likely that agencies will continue to flaunt the law. In other words, if you’re hoping to find out how money changes hands between contractors and the government, don’t hold your breath.