The White House officially exempted its Office of Administration from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), effective immediately in mid-March 2015. FOIA (5 U.S.C. §552) is a federal law allowing limited release of information and documents controlled by the U. S. Government.
The White House announcement is ironic for at least 2 reasons: the Obama Administration pledged greater transparency than the George W. Bush Administration; and the announcement was issued during Sunshine Week, a public promotion of open government and compliance with FOIA. However, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated that the White House was merely cleaning up outdated regulations.
The Office of Administration stopped complying with FOIA requests during the George W. Bush Administration. In response, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued. The suit continued beyond the 2008 presidential elections and in 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia ruled that the Office of Administration is not subject to FOIA because it is not an agency as defined under FOIA, lacking substantial independent authority and performing “only operational and administrative tasks in support of the President and his staff.”
Despite President Obama’s avowed commitment to greater transparency, the Office of Administration continued the Bush Administration’s policy and the 2009 court ruling, releasing no documents under the FOIA. Then, in the middle of Sunshine Week 2015, the White House made it official and “final,” meaning there would be no 30-day public comment period.
As a result of the Administration’s decision, there is no formal procedure for the public’s request for “discretionary disclosure” of the Office of Administration’s records.
The action was decried by the Media, CREW and other organizations believing that the government’s record-keeping practices should be subject to more scrutiny, not less.
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