Groups seek FOIA policy reversal

Advocates want Office of Administration to comply with FOIA requests

A coalition of 37 groups that advocate open government has sent a letter to President Barack Obama's top lawyer asking the administration to make the White House's Office of Administration (OA) subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The groups want the Obama administration to overturn a position taken by the Bush administration that the OA is not a federal agency subject to FOIA requests. The OA handles information technology services.

A U.S. district court judge upheld the Bush administration’s position in June 2008. The argument that the OA was not subject to FOIA represented a shift for that office, which had published FOIA regulations from 1980 until August 2007.

“This radical departure from the policies and practices of all prior administrations rests on a flawed legal theory that fails to properly consider OA's role within the Executive Office of the President and its lack of proximity to the President,” the groups wrote in the letter to Gregory Craig, counsel to Obama.

The decision on OA’s status was in response to a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). That organization was unsatisfied with the Bush administration’s response to two FOIA requests for information from the White House’s investigation into potential loss of records concerning e-mail messages. CREW has appealed the decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and a decision has not been made.

Meanwhile, the open-government groups said the OA played an important role in government transparency. “Starting with his own offices, President Obama now has the perfect opportunity to make good on his promise of transparency,” Anne Weismann, CREW’s chief counsel said in a statement. “We hope he decides to keep his word to the American people."

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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