On Tuesday, the White House published a notice in the Federal Register, deleting the regulation that required the Office of Administration to be subject to public information requests, which would have required a response under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Office of Administration is made up of seven offices that are in charge of overseeing the general administration of the entire Executive Office.
The notice published in the Federal Register said that the White House is “removing regulations from the Code of Federal Regulations related to the status of records created and maintained by the Executive Office of the President.”
“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,” stated the notice.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest claimed that even with the change in rules, the Obama administration is the “most transparent administration in history.” He referred to the repeal as an “administrative change,” and said that it has “no impact on our compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.”
“This change in the regulations is merely an effort to comply with a court ruling that was issued almost six years ago,” said Earnest, referencing an appeals court ruling from 2009 that made the Office of Administration exempt from FOIA. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed against the Bush administration by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
Anne Weismann, a member of CREW, told USA Today that the repeal is “completely out of step with the president’s supposed commitment to transparency.”
“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.
According to The Hill, the Obama administration has “censored or denied access to records more frequently than ever in 2013” and has “cited more legal reasons than ever for exempting them.”
USA Today noted that the timing of the repeal has “raised eyebrows among transparency advocates,” due to the fact that it was made on National Freedom of Information Day, in the midst of a debate over the preservation of Obama administration records, and during Sunshine Week, which is devoted to news organizations and watchdog groups highlighting issues of government transparency.