White House Move To Exempt Itself From FOIA Regs Raises Eyebrows

By Mani
Updated on

The White House’s new rules exempting an administrative office from being subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) have raised eyebrows among transparency advocates.

The FOIA allows citizens to obtain government documents from federal agencies.

Federal Register listed the action ‘final rule’

In a Federal Register notice scheduled to publish on Tuesday morning, the action to exempt the Office of Administration is listed as a final rule, implying there will be no opportunity for public comment.

The notice highlights that the Executive Office of the President, Office of Administration, is removing regulations from the Code of Federal Regulations related to the status of records created and maintained by the Executive Office of the President. The action is justified as aligning Office of Administration Policy with well-settled legal interpretation of the Office of Administration’s status under federal law and executive orders.

The notice emphasizes that the Office of Administration, as an entity whose sole function is to advise and assist the President of the U.S., is not an “agency” under the Freedom of Information Act or the Privacy Act of 1974.

The FOIA exemption move raises eyebrows

Much of White House operations are not subject to FOIA laws and regulations, including the offices of the president, vice president and immediate advisers. However, one of its largest offices, the Executive Office of the President must hand over certain documents when requested.

Before President Obama assumed office, a law uit was filed by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) after being denied access to documents it had requested to obtain details about emails that had gone missing from White House servers. Subsequently, the court upheld the ruling that the Office of Administration, which advises and assists the president, is not an “agency” as defined by the FOIA.

Though White House hasn’t released any Office of Administration records under FOIA, it used the ruling to defend its stance.

The latest notice comes at an ironic time – during Sunshine Week, in which government watchdogs promote and push for more democracy. The week with  organizations pushing for government openness began on Sunday, with Monday observed as National Freedom of Information Act Day.

Reacting to the latest move, Anne Weismann of CREW said: “The irony of this being Sunshine Week is not lost on me”. She added: “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”.

Last month, we carried a detailed analysis of how FOIA requests are generated, the kind of information commonly requested by institutional investors, and its costs. Interestingly, the analysis reveals FOIA requests facilitate institutional investors in generating abnormal portfolio returns and offered evidence indicating that FOIA information is not generally known to other investors in the marketplace.

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