White House Abolishes Freedom of Information Act Requests

White House Abolishes Freedom of Information Act Requests
white house from south 2 Steven Damron/Flickr CC BY 2.0
White House Steven Damron White House Abolishes Freedom of Information Act Requests
Image from Flickr by Steven Damron

The Office of Administration will be exempted from future Freedom of Information Act requests as soon as the Federal Register notice gets published on Tuesday, March 17. The notice means that the office need not comply to requests if needs for discretionary disclosure arise.


The Rule Will Be Final

As soon as the Federal Register notice gets published on Tuesday, the rule will be final, as the White House did not allow a 30-day public comment period, the USA Today reported.

The decision to abolish the regulation that subjects the Office of Administration to comply with FOIA was based on “well-settled legal interpretations,” the White House told USA Today.

However, advocates of government transparency are dubious about the timing of the Federal Register notice.

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They noted that it comes as the National Freedom of Information Day is being celebrated and as there is an ongoing debate regarding questionable documents involving the Obama administration. Furthermore, the announcement comes with the celebration of Sunshine Week, where media and advocates were given leeway to discuss issues involving government transparency.

But the most doubtful coincidence is the announcement coming in the wake of the controversy surrounding ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of private email, advocates highlighted.

“The Irony of this being Sunshine Week is not lost on me. It is completely out of step with the president’s supposed commitment to transparency. That is a critical office, especially if you want to know, for example, how the White House is dealing with e-mail,” Anne Weismann from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said.

On a Bigger Issue

The bigger issue is that the Office of Administration is mainly responsible for all records concerning the president. Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government initiative for the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, said that there should be more scrutiny on how the office handles record-keeping, case in point is Clinton’s use of private email.

“I think what we’ve all learned in the last few weeks is the person who creates a record – whether it’s running a program or writing an email – is the one who gets to decide whether it’s an official record. And there ought to be another set of eyes on that. That’s the essential problem.

The White House explained that the Federal Register notice does not change any aspect of the Administration’s compliance to the FOIA.

“It simply removes outdated regulations that no longer apply to the Office of Administration and haven’t applied since the Bush Administration. Generally speaking, the administration has gone to great lengths to release more information on the front end so that the individuals do not have to file a FOIA to get access to government data and other information,” a White House source told The Hill in an email.