The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The worst agency on transparency during Hillary Clinton’s last two years at State? State.

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The Center for Effective Government (formerly OMB Watch) just published its 2015 report on government agencies' Freedom of Information Act compliance. (That's the law that allows anyone to petition for communication and research on particular topics, and is meant to ensure transparency in government.)

In the report, which looks at data from 2013, no agency fares worse than the State Department, whose leadership changed hands from Hillary Clinton to John Kerry that year. But the State Department also came in dead last on transparency in the CEG report looking at 2012 — the last year of a Clinton tenure that we now know included the use of a private e-mail system that apparently prevented her official communication from being accessible.

Here are the scores by agency for 2012 and 2013. Down at the bottom: State.

As a raw number, that doesn't tell you much. The CEG breaks out the scores into three categories: processing requests (which provides the bulk of the score), rules around disclosures and the quality of the agency's Web site. State does fairly well in the last category, remarkably badly in the second one and terribly in the first.

"The State Department deserves special attention for its very low score," the report covering 2012 points out. "In addition to performing poorly on measures of timeliness, it did not do well on withholding (only 25 percent of requests fully granted)." In the most recent report, looking at the year Clinton left, the critique is nearly as strong. "The Department of State score (37 percent) was particularly dismal," it reads at one point. On processing requests, the "State Department was a serious outlier," it says. "While 65 percent of its requests were simple, only eight percent were processed within the required 20 days. The State Department had the second-largest request backlog and the third-lowest rate of fully-granted requests."

The CEG also notes that the State Department has "some of the most outdated regulations in the scorecard." Only four agencies, not including State, had updated regulations since amendments to FOIA were passed in 2007.

Over the course of our reporting on Clinton's e-mails, we've noted that her private e-mail system would have introduced another level of difficulty for anyone filing a FOIA request to the agency. The extent to which her private e-mails were accessible to State FOIA officers — if at all — is unknown.

Coming from the agency with the worst rating on information accessibility two years in a row, it's perhaps understandable why that didn't raise any eyebrows.