The Golden Padlock Award

Investigative Reporters and Editors in 2013 launched a new award - dubbed the Golden Padlock - recognizing the most secretive publicly-funded agency or person in the United States.

"This honor acknowledges the dedication of government officials working tirelessly to keep vital information hidden from the public," said David Cay Johnston, president of IRE. "Their abiding commitment to secrecy and impressive skill in information suppression routinely keeps knowledge about everything from public health risks to government waste beyond the reach of citizens who pay their salaries."

Governments at all levels – from local to federal – are eligible for the award. The "honor" is handed out annually at IRE's national conference.



  • Email your nomination to
  • Submissions should include the name of the agency or individual along with reasons and/or media coverage detailing the intransigence.



The U.S. Navy FOIA office (2014)

After the September 2013 massacre at the US Navy’s Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., the Navy circled the wagons, especially when WRC-TV reporter Scott MacFarlane submitted FOIA requests for images, videos and security-related memos. The Navy not only blocked the request but Navy FOIA officer Robin Patterson, in an internal memo, detailed an elaborate plan to stymie MacFarlane’s request and others. The memo, which was accidentally released to MacFarlane, triggered an onslaught of media coverage, a written apology to MacFarlane by a Navy supervisor, a lawsuit against the Navy FOIA office and an internal Navy review of the agency’s FOIA procedures.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (2014)

After Missouri announced last year it was making the state's execution drug supplier a legally protected secret, officials began redacting all identifying information in response to freedom of information requests. When journalists eventually learned the name of the hidden supplier, they reported the company was not licensed in the state, had been cited in the past by regulatory agencies and was paid thousands of dollars for its services in cash deliveries by a high-ranking state official. Rather than embracing greater openness and transparency following the revelations, the state again shrouded its new, unknown execution drug supplier in secrecy where it remains today. In April, following a botched execution in Oklahoma, journalists were stonewalled by a law preventing the public from learning the name of the physician overseeing the execution, the supplier of the drugs and the credentials of the medical professional who may have improperly inserted a failed IV line. Under the law, details that could explain the gruesome last minutes of the inmate's life and seek accountability remain hidden from public knowledge.

2014 FINALISTS: The Department of Justice’s National Security Division; The VIA Metropolitan Transit system of San Antonio; The West Virginia judicial investigation commissionl. To learn more about each agency, click here.


U.S. Border Patrol (2013)

Robert Cribb, of the Toronto Star unveils the Golden Padlock Award, held by Lea Thompson, of LT Productions, at the 2013 IRE awards luncheon.

The country’s largest law-enforcement agency was chosen among dozens of nominations from journalists and the public for refusing to make public the details of use-of-force incidents involving its agents. Despite a string of fatal incidents over the past three years in which Mexicans have been shot and killed by agents along the Southwest border, the Border Patrol routinely refuses to disclose the names of agents involved. And it has repeatedly stonewalled FOIA requests on the incidents filed by the Arizona Republic because the cases remained under investigation by the FBI, sometimes for years.

“The U.S. Border Patrol's resounding silence on fatal shootings involving its agents epitomizes the kind of intransigence for which this award was created,” said IRE president David Cay Johnston. “Accountability is an essential element of any public agency, but all the more so when its agents are empowered to fire weapons that kill. The Border Agency appears to have forgotten that duty.”

2013 FINALISTS: JobsOhio; New Jersey Transit; Fulton County, Georgia Tax Commissioner; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To learn more about each agency, click here.