Obama promised us the ‘most transparent administration in history.’ He must have forgotten he said that when he announced that he will be exempting his Office of Administration from the FOIA requests it has been subject too since the Freedom of Information Act was passed.
The White House’s decision on the matter will officially go into effect today. Instead of an Executive Order this time, the new exemption will be declared by a notice from the Federal Register. It will be listed as a final rule- meaning that there is no chance for public comment or discussion before the policy kicks in, and the desires of congress will not be taken into consideration. Obama’s word is final, and it is the law.
The only thing that this new law will really change is that the presidential Office of Administration will no longer formally be bound to turn over certain documents when requested under FOIA. Since Obama took office, never once has a FOIA request to that office been answered, paid attention to, or been met with anything but presumably an evil laugh followed by a quick trip to the dumpster. Obama has thus far made it his policy to simply ignore FOIA requests for that office. The strange part is that it’s unclear why specifically the Office of Administration, why now, needs to be formally exempted. Many offices of the White House are already exempted from FOIA requests. The President, Vice President, and their immediate advisors are all exempt from FOIA requirements. The Office of Administration is housed within the Executive Office of the President, which has always been required to hand over certain documents when requested. The Executive Office has simply never responded to these requests when they pertain to the Office of Administration under Obama.
The timing is too strange to be a coincidence- the announcement came smack in the middle of “Sunshine Week,” a week when watchdog organizations and other media groups try to “shed some light” on what’s going on behind closed doors in government agencies. Sunshine Week is about encouraging greater compliance with and acceptance of FOIA. Naturally, these groups were already upset with the Obama administration for its absolute lack of transparency. Now, they are outraged that Obama would use this week to do exactly the opposite of promote transparency.
Perhaps Obama’s new final rule is a deliberate slap in the face to the groups behind Sunshine Week. Perhaps there’s something in that office he needed to make sure was hidden before Sunshine Week began. Perhaps a FOIA request was made for a document he didn’t want to reveal, and he was terrified that during Sunshine Week there would be a push for him to turn it over under FOIA.
Not like he’s going to tell us.