The only White House office subject to Freedom of Information Act requests will no longer have to respond to these requests. USA Today reported Monday that the White House is lifting FOIA regulations on the Office of Administration, a policy change that started under the Bush administration, but was made official under President Barack Obama.
The Office of Administration is responsible for White House record-keeping duties like the archiving of emails. For 30 years, the office responded to FOIA requests and transparency groups from across the political spectrum have used records from the office to report on how the White House operates.
The irony of the move, which was not overlooked by transparency advocates, was that it came on National Freedom of Information Day and during Sunshine Week. The move also raises plenty of eyebrows as it comes during an ongoing debate over how the White House preserves its emails and just how transparent the Obama administration really is.
“It’s a little tone deaf to do this on Sunshine Week, even if it’s an administrative housecleaning,” said Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government initiative for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The White House says its actions are in line with previous federal court rulings on the matter, a claim USA Today reports is true:
“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.” – Gregory Korte, USA Today
Don’t worry, the Office of Administration is willing to release some records voluntarily under what is called “discretionary discolure.” Records that will continue to be released voluntarily include White House visitor logs and recipes for beers brewed at the White House. So home brewers can breathe a sigh of relief.