White House Celebrates National Freedom Of Information Day By Making Office Of The Administration Completely UnFOIA-able

from the ain't-no-sunshine-when-he's-done dept

March 16th is National Freedom of Information Day (and the beginning of Sunshine Week). The Most Transparent Administration™ celebrated it in the style to which is has become accustomed.

The White House is removing a federal regulation that subjects its Office of Administration to the Freedom of Information Act, making official a policy under Presidents Bush and Obama to reject requests for records to that office.
So, there's that: another agency within the government that won't respond to FOIA requests. I mean, many don't, at least not until they're successfully sued. Others play the waiting game, the "we can't find it" game and the "fine, but it'll cost you" game. But this office will simply play the "we don't have to" game.

Most of the White House is off-limits to FOIA requests, with various court decisions in its favor shoring up the request denials. But the Office of Administration was different… or was up until recently.
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.
Obama may have pressed the kill switch, but this slide towards opacity started back during the previous presidency -- also no fan of government transparency. A lawsuit over 22 million emails led Bush's administration to exercise its option to opt out of FOIA responsiveness and a 2009 court ruling upheld the Office's decision. In the end, the Office of Administration is still charged with archiving presidential emails, but it doesn't have to release them until five years after the current president has left office.

The administration's ironic decision to eliminate sunshine during Sunshine Week is explained in a notice at the Federal Register.
This action is being taken in order to align Office of Administration policy with well-settled legal interpretations of the Office of Administration's status under Federal law and Executive Orders, including the Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy Act of 1974, and Executive Order 13526. The Office of Administration, as an entity whose sole function is to advise and assist the President of the United States, is not an agency under the Freedom of Information Act or the Privacy Act of 1974, nor does its implementation of Executive Order 13526 affect members of the public. Accordingly, the provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations to be removed are without legal effect.
All well and good, but it would be refreshing to see an agency opt in to greater transparency, rather than reverting to the default opacity setting. And then there's the issue of self-governance. Give a government body the power to set its own FOIA rules and you should expect nothing less than more secrecy. As Rick Blum of Sunshine in Government points out, this is a problem.
"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."
At the very least, it's a conflict of interest. When one side wants less transparency and has the unchallenged power to make that decision, the public -- and its right to know -- goes completely unrepresented.

Filed Under: foia, freedom of information day, most transparent administration, office of administration, white house


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 5:05am

    The most tranparent administration in history!

    Not!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:02am

      Re: The most tranparent administration in history!

      Actually it is. We know every move they're going to make and all of those moves involve the bird, laughter, and "Fuck off" in some way.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:37am

      Re: The most tranparent administration in history!

      He meant "transparently corrupt."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 17 Mar 2015 @ 5:07am

    The White House is removing a federal regulation that subjects its Office of Administration to the Freedom of Information Act

    A well-defined system of checks and balances at work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:09am

      Re:

      when you have a president that wipes his ass with your vaunted constitution what do you expect.

      he does what he wants when he wants to and dam if will listen to anyone. He ignores the senate when it gets in his way the few times they have bothered to try.

      he is just like Bush which has disillusioned me to any belief in there being two separate parties

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Chris Rhodes (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:42am

        Re: Re:

        when you have a president that wipes his ass with your vaunted constitution what do you expect.
        How far back would one have to go in history to find a president who didn't? I swear, voters are like battered spouses ("He promised us that this time would be different!")

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Michael, 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:50am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Washington was probably ok with it for most of the first year.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Eponymous Coward (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:51am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I wish I could give this more insightful votes. Every four years the office of the president promises the world:
          - I know you've had enough, and you deserve better
          - It's all going to change
          - I will respect you
          - The lying is done
          - No more reading your emails when you aren't looking
          - No more following you when you go out with your friends
          - I know it's OUR money, and I'm going to start treating it like it's OUR money

          Then, once the happy glow of reconciliation fades, the old habits come back and we realize that they never really left.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 7:15am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "How far back would one have to go in history to find a president who didn't?"

          How about the last elections? Obama promised sweeping changes, while his opponents, such as McCain and Romney (and even H. Clinton) did not.

          Most politicians promise things that they have no direct control of, such as improving the economy or getting laws passed, but Obama made many specific promises about things that the president has direct control over. But after being elected, Obama did the exact opposite of the things he promised to get elected.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            John Fenderson (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 7:42am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            None of those were President. And what they did or did not promise has nothing to do with whether or not they'd wipe their ass with the Constitution if they had won.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          David, 17 Mar 2015 @ 8:17am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Eisenhower took the Constitution serious enough that he sent the army to desegregate Southern schools (which the "first black" president Obama never would have had the balls to do). He also signed laws protecting the right to vote, quite unlike the Republicans of these days who rekindled their love affair with Jimmy Crow laws.

          And his concern for the values and division of powers laid out in the Constitution were probably expressed nowhere as clearly as in his farewell speech.

          As far as presidents go, he was pretty damn serious about his oath on the Constitution.

          It pretty much went downhill with some bumps from there.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 9:13am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Eisenhower was also the only president who ever dared to stand up to Israel. After Israel invaded Egypt in 1956 (with the help of the French and British) Eisenhower demanded an immediate withdrawal and was willing to do whatever it took to force Israel to comply -- Washington DC's powerful Israeli lobby be damned.

            Although Eisenhower had his faults, indecision and backpeddling were not among them. He had a clear sense of purpose and was not easily intimidated from doing what he set out to do.

            Obama, on the other hand ...

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Uriel-238 (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 10:58am

              I suspect it's more a sign of the times.

              Given the degree that justice in our society is lost, and that shit rains on the people whenever the gods have a tantrum, our entire society is about covering your ass, so that even the president has to do what is necessary to obfuscate what he does lest something prove an unexpected embarrassment.

              Watch the next four guys. They'll do the same thing. Probably worse.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 1:43pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Eisenhower also had the advantage of not being a career politician. He didn't make the compromises (ethical or otherwise) that most career politicians make to climb the ladder.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 8:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          ...voters are like battered spouses...

          At least a battered spouse can run away from the situation.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Padpaw (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 5:26pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          openly though, from what I have read throughout American history most corrupt presidents hid it. Aside from Nixon, but then he had the decency to resign was it?

          The last few American Administrations don't seem to care enough to hide the laws they break anymore. they commit them in the open because well I suspect they have discovered the American people really don't care what their leaders do as long as they have their bread and circuses

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mel (profile), 20 Mar 2015 @ 8:45am

        Re: Re:

        I pretty much agree with all your are saying except for comparing Bush and Obama. There is no comparison. Bush was not the greatest president but he certainly wasn't the worst president he defended the people and the military. He showed respect. Obama is far from that. Obama is a piece of crap that I would love to see impeached but it's amazing all that he gets away with. I'm appalled at the idiots who voted for him, especially the 2nd time. Obama has caused so much turmoil and division and just stirred up more racism that will be difficult to reverse.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 22 Mar 2015 @ 7:24pm

          As much as I resent Obama lying about providing change that he couldn't or wouldn't once in office...

          I still cannot forgive Bush for sending us into a multi-term quagmire of a war on false pretenses so that Halliburton could make millions, or for starting the torture program that is currently in use today and which launched the notion that torture is ever acceptable or justified somehow, pretty much (as it turns out) because our administrators were angry and wanted to punish someone regardless of due process. Regardless of whether or not that person actually did something.

          Oh and Camp X-Ray, which is a standing monument how the United States of America doesn't give two fucks about human rights, or centuries of social progress or international bylaws regarding warfare. It's still active because we refuse to give the people there due process even to determine whether or not they deserve how we treat them. Bush started that.

          Then there's the nitty shit like burning Valerie Plame, not because she did anything, mind you, not for the sake of saving lives, which is the only valid reason for burning a spy, but because W held a grudge with Valerie's husband, specifically that he was publishing a truth about the Bush's precious assault on Iraq. Libby took the fall for sake of deniability, but then Bush pardoned him.

          And Harry Whittington apologizing to Cheney for Cheney accidentally shooting him... not Bush's fault, but certainly symptomatic of the nature of the infrastructure that puts people like Bush and Cheney into office.

          I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that the economy bottoming out in 2008 probably wasn't his fault, at least too much. He let it happen. He agreed with bailouts that only allowed the companies to continue their coke parties. But he probably didn't directly cause them.

          It's very possible that Bush will go down in history as the worst president in America's history. Then again, now that they're all corporate shills, that could rapidly change, only because the next ones could be really, really bad. Bush did do us the service of showing that democracy, at least as it is practiced in the Great American Republic has failed. Monarchy couldn't possibly chose worse Joffreys and Caligulas. (To be fair, W was more of a Tomlin Lannister than a Joffrey.)

          I'm pretty sure that even staunch Republicans would really like to see W's terms go forgotten. Perhaps they secretly wish that Gore was stuck with handling 9/11 and the era of terror.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 5:20am

    I'm glad that Obama finally made his de facto policy official. Now maybe he will also officialize other policies involving citizen interaction, such as the farce known as "We the People" petitions, so that Americans won't waste their time anymore pursuing futile efforts -- or at least those gullible enough to not figure it out for themselves that they were flat-out lied to and that Obama had no intention of fulfilling his promises.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:50am

      Re:

      Yeah, how come anyone did think these "petitions" could get anything but ignored by a government that already ignores the law?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 8:03am

        Re: Re:

        Many of the "We The People" petitions were for requests that few people would disagree with, and could have been easily implemented with the stroke of a pen. Such as having the federally-required food labels to include GMO status. That petition was one of the early ones, and still no answer several years later. (though the unofficial answer might go something like "No, becuse Monsanto would never allow it, so it's completely off the table ... and we won't even reply with a typical non-answer because Monsanto wouldn't like that either. So just shut up already.")

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 5:55am

    Ah I was going to bring up the 'We the People" but I see that AC #3 has already done it for me. "We the People" was never anything more than another way to push the administration's wants. It was another red herring to divert attention away from going through the proper channels to get the answers it needs. A petition can be ignored as not binding in any manner.

    The government has taken to ignoring the law to do what it wants. This is why FOIA often go unaddressed, goes far over the time line set for such responses, and then winds up needing a court case to release the info it was supposed to provide under the law.

    This government is anything but a democracy despite all the lip service shown it. It's actions tell you that far louder than it's words.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:08am

    Obama kept his promise. He is the most openly corrupt president to date. Instead of hiding the contempt he has for the American people he openly flaunts it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:13am

    "slide towards opacity"

    Actually, I think this is a "slide towards transparency", in that it is becoming so transparent as to be invisible!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 6:55am

    But of course? What do you expect from the most 'transparent' administration?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    limbodog (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 7:26am

    My stupid idea of the day

    Let's make a "We the People" petition for Obama to admit that the "We the People" petitions are a complete failure, and to shut it down.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 10:18am

    The American masochist nation bush-whacked ourselves twice and then oh-bomb-aed ourselves twice. Makes one guess what horror we might inflict on ourselves next. Please don't let it be the next Hitler-y

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2015 @ 10:20am

      Re:

      Don't let us jeb ourselves in the eye either.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 17 Mar 2015 @ 5:31pm

      Re:

      If people are stupid enough to vote for Obama because they feel guilt over their country owning slaves in the past. If you criticize Obama's screw-ups you are a racist.

      They will be stupid enough to vote for Hillary over guilt how woman were treated before their suffrage movement. If you criticize Hilary's screw-ups you are a sexist.

      Just watch all the media has to do, is say the right sound bites and bam millions of idiots everywhere will vote for her because its the hip thing to do.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Pragmatic, 18 Mar 2015 @ 6:49am

        Re: Re:

        A right-wing government would be no better. Our current administration is center-right so the Right keeps moving further right to differentiate itself from the Dems.

        Result: Nobody expects the US Inquisition! *Pose*

        Seriously, tell me one thing the latest crop of d-bag Congresscritters has done lately that might make me think we've got our Constitution back?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 10:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Our current administration is center-right"

          Wow, it's almost unbelievable how far to the left you must be to see that from your perspective.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Uriel-238 (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 12:37pm

            Far left

            All it takes to be branded left-extremist is to believe that social equality should extend to everyone, not just the flagship minorities, but every race, every religion or religious standing, every ideology, every counterculture, every medical affliction (including mental illness), and that our current method of normalizing one fragment of the population at a time isn't cutting it. There are so many, many more people in the closet waiting in line.

            Frankly, saying someone is "left" or "right" is about as useful with assessing individuals as saying that government efficiency can by improved by cutting waste.

            ~ I believe that the United States should be a secular state, and that our laws should not lend privilege to a religion or set of religions, or to the notion of religions, ergo churches should fall into the category of 501(c) and jump through all the same IRS hoops that other non-profits do. This makes me leftist.

            ~ I believe that guns should not be regulated nationwide. Maybe using them in municipalities (they're loud and dangerous) and threatening to use them as a point of coercion should be, but gun owners should not have to be registered or licensed any more than a ladder or circular saw should. All these things are dangerous. Original intent of the device isn't relevant. That puts me on the right.

            (I haven't thought too much about which is more heinous a murder between stabbing someone a bunch with a meat cleaver, hacking off limbs with power tools or shooting someone in the face. All those scenarios sound rather extreme and should be regarded by the Justice system as a serious crime.)

            When I talk to friends or companies, they're eager to position me on a linear spectrum and default to moderate left. But I have some rather radical notions (e.g. challenging common notions of property law, or the legitimacy of earnings in a society where gains are not typically determined by a person's skill or utility or value to the society they are in. And some studies have shown that most moderates are that way, being extremists on specific issues in such a way that their left-right sum is nearer to zero.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            John Fenderson (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 8:36am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "it's almost unbelievable how far to the left you must be to see that from your perspective."

            It's simply the obvious truth. Look at his policy decisions: they are almost entirely right-leaning centrist in nature. What makes you think otherwise?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 10:38am

          Re: Re: Re:

          No Republican or Democrat group will ever give the people back their rightful seat at the head of government.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 8:10am

        Re: Re:

        "If you criticize Obama's screw-ups you are a racist"

        I criticize Obama all the time, both online and in person, and have never once been called a racist. I think it might depend on the nature of the criticism.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 12:54pm

          I think Obama's screw-ups are going to lead to racist thinking.

          I think Obama's missteps are going to fuel sloppy thinking regarding How It Works. Much like women in the workplace being judged on their weaknesses unless they excel at everything (granted, to a waning degree with time), the people of the US will look at Obama's presidency and judge all future black candidates based on the failings of his administration, especially given that he didn't have any spectacular successes. We're really good at being critical without considering the circumstances of the time.

          I expect that it's all moot at this point. Any representative in this era will be a corporate shill, and reform of any sort has been locked out since those who can change the status quo want only to secure it. The only reform we can expect will emerge from without the system. But it also means that any minority that gets elected in this era will also be a corporate shill, and then that will be used to discredit minority candidates in future regimes.

          Because common humans can't logic, especially if it contradicts their established comfortable attitude.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2015 @ 1:48pm

    Kissing Iran's Nasty Ass

    Just let the country know why you're kissing Iran's balls. If you know that by dropping Israel's back, you are dooming every man, woman, young adult, child, baby, dog, cat, bird and mouse, then you are treasonous and at the very least deserve to be impeached and removed from office of the United States of America.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 10:49am

      "You are dooming every man, woman, young adult, child, baby, dog, cat, bird and mouse"

      Please explain.

      You seem to have a belief that the Persians are crazy enough to try to nuke Israel.

      That would be such a mistake on their part for many reasons, the first of which is that Iran (and Islam by association) will be known as the people who first used nuclear weapons in hostility. No other nation, even Indians and Pakistans who hate, hate, hate each other have done that. And unlike the US, Persians are quite conscious of the long history.

      And secondly, their use of one nuke will give us cause (with no resistance from the international community) to raze all of Iran into glass slag. We'd have total permission to salt the Earth, as is our duty according to international nuclear policy.

      So no, we could offer to sell Iran a nuclear tipped General Electric ICBM and they would wisely scoff at the offer. Being in the nuclear club is as confining as forced economic globalization.

      And we give Israel not just enough arms to defend themselves from their neighbors and enslave the people of the Palestinian ghetto, but enough to launch offensives if they want to, which they use to cluster-bomb large swaths of Libya so as to bypass landmine regulations (Libyans have to actively teach their children that little shiny metal spheres found in the dirt are not toys. They're unexploded munitions.)

      So yeah, the military assistance that the US gives Israel's ruthless regime could be tempered a bit if we weren't actively trying to encourage murdering all the little sand niggers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 18 Mar 2015 @ 11:51pm

    A conquered people.

    "... the public -- and its right to know -- goes completely unrepresented. "

    I dunno, looks to me like the American Public is getting quite used to being completely unrepresented and has learned to take the abuse it receives from its so called government, stoically in stride.

    The worse the situation gets, the less they're doing about it - in fact, the less they're even complaining about it.

    Who can blame a criminal organization for wanting to keep its victims in the dark after all?

    Certainly not the American Public Victims.

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 10:36am

      Re: A conquered people.

      It's a cross-generational thing. Our working force is too focused (as we were raised to be) on just earning a living to notice how our rights have dwindled. We're grossly overworked and underpaid, and often trying to feed kids, so we're unable to look up from being a cog in the system.

      Sadly this means we don't have time to raise our kids. My generation were latch-key. Mom was just never home. But the current tweens are being raised by impacted caretakers and our penitentiary-based school system (more interested in the containment of delinquents than preparing kids for adult life.

      With each new batch of high-school graduates (and large batch of drop-outs) more and more young people are finding the job-scarce, career-apathetic, employee-suspicious work environment less hospitable and will either turn to the welfare system or crime in order to survive. Considering how poorly we regard welfare beneficiaries in the US, the black market economy starts looking really good.

      That crime is partisan activity against the occupying corporate oligarchical regime. It is the revolution.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        GEMont (profile), 21 Mar 2015 @ 12:27am

        Re: Re: A conquered people.

        "That crime is partisan activity against the occupying corporate oligarchical regime. It is the revolution."

        If you are stating here that the necessity of an American citizen to become a criminal to make ends meet, is the public rebellion against the corporate regime running the USA today, methinks you may be missing something in the equation that reverses the whole notion of crime being a public strike against the machine.

        Most crime in the US is regulated. The wealthy control the gangs and the lone wolves always end up joining or dying.

        To become a successful criminal in the USA today, you will be working for the same people who own the factories you used to work in - the same people who make the laws and the same people who insured that you needed to become a crook just to pay your utility bills and feed your kids.

        Its how the wealthy make minions.

        Its a lot like how the wealthy wage war.

        You cannot have a "good" war if you have a good economy, where your citizens are happy and prosperous and able to pay their bills and feed their kids.

        However, if you drop your economy to the floor, your suddenly poor citizens will flock to your Army Recruitment centers by the thousands - just so they can pay their utility bills and feed their kids.

        Its a very, very old and incredibly successful formulae.

        ---

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mick, 27 Mar 2015 @ 7:11am

    Oh, these were the days

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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