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In its transition report, the science office included dozens of policy papers prepared by the staff to ensure incoming administration officials were aware of issues that would require attention in early-to-mid-2009. But all of the papers released to The Times were redacted in their entirety, including the titles.

“Given that other agencies have released information, it’s hard to understand what the rationale would be for withholding information,” said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

‘Spirit of cooperation’

What’s more, there’s also little consistency among agencies on the question of whether transition reports even exist.

Smaller government agencies such as the National Indian Gaming Commission, the Railroad Retirement Board and the Surface Transportation Board all provided The Times with copies of their transition reports.

The gaming commission, for instance, sent the Obama-Biden transition team a detailed report that included information on three pending issues it was facing at the time: the naming of a new chairman, filling a vacant commissioner’s position and supporting the commission’s status as an independent agency.

By contrast, agencies with higher public profiles, such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and U.S. Army, told The Times that a search of records found no transition reports.

The Federal Communications Commission said it didn’t have a report but located about 1,300 pages of briefing materials sent to the transition team. However, the FCC said it didn’t consider those documents responsive to The Times’ request, so the FCC didn’t supply the records.

The National Science Foundation said it didn’t have a transition report, either. Nonetheless, the foundation noted in its response that officials decided to release hundreds of pages of internal transition-related documents “in the spirit of cooperation and transparency.”

Still, the foundation also withheld portions of the transition records under the same exemptions cited by the White House’s science office.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also released transition materials but withheld what it called sensitive cyber-security briefing documents. Disclosure of the information “could lead to breaches of the commission’s information systems,” the commission wrote in a response to the request.

‘A right to know’

As executive director of the White House Transition Project, a nonpartisan consortium of outsiders who assist in the transition, University of North Carolina political science professor Terry Sullivan said some transition materials on national security issues should remain secret.

“Imagine a document from the Air Force that describes capabilities of a new fighter; that might not be something that people ought to know about,” he said. Still, he added, “Agencies could try to limit their public embarrassment for stuff they screw up, and to that extent the public has a right to know.”

Typically written by career employees, the transition reports obtained by The Times show that outgoing political appointees - even though unlikely to stay in the new administration - sometimes still get involved.

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