The White House is exempting its Office of Administration from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, saying it is not a federal agency and therefore not bound by the FOIA law. FOIA requests allow the public to request information from federal agencies. The Office of Administration handles White House record keeping, such as archiving emails.
The office had always complied with FOIA requests – in fact, it has been for the last 30 years since the FOIA law went into effect — and the change comes from a White House that promised greater transparency under an Obama administration.
Ironically, the change was announced on National Freedom of Information Day and at the start of Sunshine Week, an effort by news organizations and watchdog groups to highlight issues of government transparency.
"The irony of this being Sunshine Week is not lost on me," said Anne Weismann of the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW.
"It is completely out of step with the president's supposed commitment to transparency," she told USA Today. "That is a critical office, especially if you want to know, for example, how the White House is dealing with e-mail."
"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 anymore," said Tom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch.
"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," said Weismann.
"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.
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.