White House to delete FOIA regulations
The White House is removing a federal regulation that subjects its Office of Administration to the Freedom of Information Act, making official a policy under Presidents Bush and Obama to reject requests for records to that office.
The White House said the cleanup of FOIA regulations is consistent with court rulings that hold that the office is not subject to the transparency law. “It is completely out of step with the president’s supposed commitment to transparency,” she said. “That is a critical office, especially if you want to know, for example, how the White House is dealing with e-mail.”
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.
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.
In a notice to be published in Tuesday’s Federal Register, the White House says it’s removing regulations on how the Office of Administration complies with Freedom of Information Act Requests based on “well-settled legal interpretations.”
The rule change means that there will no longer be a formal process for the public to request that the White House voluntarily disclose records as part of what’s known as a “discretionary disclosure.”
The White House did not explain why it waited nearly six years to formally acknowledge the court ruling in its regulations.
White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said the administration remains committed “to work towards unprecedented openness in government.”
“Over the past six years, federal agencies have gone to great efforts to make government more transparent and more accessible than ever, including by making more information available to the public via our Open Government initiative and improving the FOIA process,” she said.
In the notice to be published Tuesday, the White House said it was not allowing a 30-day public comment period, and so the rule will be final.
Given the controversy over former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail account to conduct official business, there ought to be more scrutiny of record-keeping practices, he said.