The Associated Press has discovered that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been playing politics with, of all things, the Freedom of Information Act.
FOIA is the leading effort of government's promise to be "more open" and give the public a better idea of what lawmakers and bureaucrats are doing with tax dollars.
So there's a special irony in learning that the department charged with protecting the security of all Americans instead has been playing hide and seek with the truth.
Here's how it worked, taxpayers will learn from congressional hearings under way on the matter:
Someone, perhaps a news agency, would file a FOIA request.
Under the law, a response should have been given within 20 business days but as speedily as practical.
But instead of hurrying the request along, political staffers at Homeland Security first turned them over to political officials for review, delaying the response.
Well, apparently Homeland Security wanted to give the appropriate political figure a chance to prepare a response before the person asking for the information even knew what questions to ask.
The response was prepared before the information was released -- not for national security reasons but for the convenience of politicians and bureaucrats.
We're glad Congress is looking into this.
Homeland Security is a huge department of government. That alone helps explain the kinds of scandals that keep cropping up.
From bribes for "access" to the president to misbehavior at airport checkpoints to child pornography allegations to this newly discovered illegal withholding and delay of information, the department has from its beginnings a decade ago has proved to be an embarrassment for whichever political party was in power.
Homeland Security's own internal watchdog told the AP that the agency needlessly delayed releasing documents to reporters and others under the Freedom of Information Act because of a now-rescinded policy requiring approval first from political appointees.
"While the department has a legitimate need to be aware of media inquiries, we are not persuaded that delaying a FOIA release so that officials can prepare for expected inquiries is the best public policy," the inspector general said. "The problem is that some of these inquiries unnecessarily delayed the final issuance of some FOIA responses."
While Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California said the department was failing to meet promises of greater government transparency by President Obama, the facts are that similar problems have existed since the department was formed during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Regardless of who is in the White House, it risks public trust when members of a bureaucracy put politics above openness in a department where the word "freedom" is in its very title.
Obama is the bigger disappointment because he promised to do better.