About Grading the Government

In January 2009, President Barack Obama sent a memorandum to the heads of Executive Branch agencies with the goal of establishing what he has repeatedly called, “the most transparent Administration in history.”

Now, more than four years after that memo was published in the federal register, Cause of Action set out to determine whether the President has been able to fulfill his goals for transparency in government, specifically in the FOIA process, or if he has fallen short of the intended outcome.


Grading the Government is an initial look into the ability of the Federal Government to provide transparency into their many dealings. Cause of Action decided that we would look to our own FOIA experiences in an effort to gauge the overall health of transparency within the Federal Government. In total, 113 offices received FOIA requests for our investigation into promotional item spending. In an age where government spending continues to grow, where new regulations are added every year, and where ethics in government are continually questioned, citizens should be entitled to a level of transparency that grows at the same rate.

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Cause of Action submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to 16 different federal departments in April 2012 concerning spending on promotional items between January 2009 and April 2012. This report examines how these 16 federal departments responded to the identical FOIA requests, and grades them according to response time, use of redactions, and approval of our fee waiver. What we found was that, overall, the President and his administration continue to fall short of a culture of transparency in the Federal Government.

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Current Rankings

Top 5

Department of Education
A Average 21 - day turnaround time

Department of the Interior
B Average 40 - day turnaround time

Environmental Protection Agency
B Average 47 - day turnaround time

Department of Veterans Affairs
B− Average 79 - day turnaround time

U.S. Department of Agriculture
C Average 80 - day turnaround time

Bottom 5

Department of Commerce
F Average 637 - day turnaround time

Department of Homeland Security
F Average 119 - day turnaround time

Department of Defense
F Average 43 - day turnaround time

Department of Housing and Urban Development
D− Average 341 - day turnaround time

Department of the Treasury
D− Average 392 - day turnaround time

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