Get ready for a heavy dose of irony, or…something like that.
This week is Sunshine Week, “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.”
And, Monday was National Freedom of Information Day, “the unofficial U.S. holiday devoted to spreading the word about your right to get information from the federal government.”
Yay for government transparency!
The Obama administration is the most transparent in history, right? Obama himself has told us this over and over, so it must be true!
Here he is, reminding us how transparent his administration is, in case anyone has forgotten:
In honor of Sunshine Week and National Freedom of Information Day – and in keeping with Obama’s repetitive transparency proclamations – today the White House made a BIG announcement…
From USA Today:
The White House is removing a federal regulation that subjects its Office of Administration to the Freedom of Information Act.
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. The office handles, among other things, White House record-keeping duties like the archiving of e-mails.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted on July 4, 1966. The law gives citizens the right to access information from the federal government:
[FOIA] provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions. A FOIA request can be made for any agency record.
Here’s what today’s announcement means…
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.” Records released by the Office of Administration voluntarily include White House visitor logs and the recipe for beer brewed at the White House.
“The irony of this being Sunshine Week is not lost on me,” Anne Weismann of the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, told USA Today.
“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.”
(E-mail? Like…Hillary Clinton’s e-mail?)
“Their timing is exquisite,” said Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University.
“It’s a little tone deaf to do this on Sunshine Week, even if it’s an administrative housecleaning,” added Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government initiative for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
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Here’s a little more on what this is all about…
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.
Seven years ago, a federal judge ruled that the office does not have to comply with the law.
UPI provides more background:
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled in June 2008 the Office of Administration was not subject to FOIA regulations because it doesn’t employ “the type of substantial independent authority that the D.C. Circuit has found sufficient to make an (executive office of the president) component an agency under the FOIA.”
The Office of Administration provides administrative support and business services to the president’s executive office.
The ruling came about after the office wasn’t able to comply with a government watchdog group’s FOIA request for up to 22 million emails. The White House said the emails had been deleted by a computer glitch.
It’s not clear why it took seven years, but the office is now removing the FOIA policy from the Federal Register.
Oh, I think it is pretty clear why this is happening now.
“You have a president who comes in and says, I’m committed to transparency and agencies should make discretionary disclosures whenever possible, but he’s not applying that to his own White House,” Weismann said.
To add insult to injury, the
Spite White House said it was not allowing a 30-day public comment period. The notice will be published Tuesday…and the rule will be final.
“I think what we’ve all learned in the last few weeks is the person who creates a record — whether it’s running a program or writing an e-mail — is the one who gets to decide whether it’s an official record,” Blum said. “And there ought to be another set of eyes on that. That’s the essential problem.”
Don’t worry, though: White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine wants to assure us that 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.
“Making more information available to the public” and “improving the FOIA process” by stopping us from using it to access information?
Is the Obama administration attempting to trick us into some kind of doublethink – asking us to hold two contradictory beliefs in our minds simultaneously and accept both of them?
One can’t help but wonder if the timing of this announcement was intentional…a blatant slap in the face to Americans.
Surely the irony is not lost on the Obama administration.