The Obama administration, which bills itself as the most transparent administration in history, is announcing on Tuesday that its office of administration will no longer be subject to federal regulations regarding the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which allows citizens to request copies of federal documents. While the action is not surprising, it was a move they could have made in 2009, which raises questions about the timing.
According to USA Today:
Unlike other offices within the White House, which were always exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, the Office of Administration responded to FOIA requests for 30 years. Until the Obama administration, watchdog groups on the left and the right used records from the office to shed light on how the White House works.
"This is an office that operated under the FOIA for 30 years, and when it became politically inconvenient, they decided they weren't subject to the Freedom of Information Act any more," said Tom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch.
During the Bush administration the office of administration decided not to comply with FOIA requests:
In 2009, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that the Office of Administration was not subject to the FOIA, "because it performs only operational and administrative tasks in support of the president and his staff and therefore, under our precedent, lacks substantial independent authority."
The appeals court ruled that the White House was required to archive the e-mails, but not release them under the FOIA. Instead, White House e-mails must be released under the Presidential Records Act — but not until at least five years after the end of the administration.
The issue is that the Obama administration made no move to recognize the 2009 ruling until Tuesday, when they will be "removing regulations on how the Office of Administration complies with Freedom of Information Act Requests based on 'well-settled legal interpretations.'"
Ironically, the White House announced the changes on "National Freedom of Information Day." As USA Today writes, the change was announced as the country is engaged in a "national debate over the preservation of Obama [State Dept.] administration records. It's also Sunshine Week, an effort by news organizations and watchdog groups to highlight issues of government transparency."