Prevent Obama administration and federal agencies from delaying production of documents that the White House considers politically sensitive
Washington, DC – Today, Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) filed a lawsuit against 11 federal agencies — plus the Office of the White House Counsel (OWHC) and White House Counsel Neil Eggleston — to end the Obama administration’s practice of delaying government responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that the administration considers politically sensitive or embarrassing.
When members of the public request documents from federal agencies, FOIA requires that agencies process the request in accordance with specific deadlines. Agencies must search for responsive documents and produce them unless the information they contain falls into a specific statutory exception.
The Obama administration, however, has interfered in the FOIA process in ways that violate the statute and hinder its purpose of federal transparency. Although President Obama came into office with promises of transparency, his administration’s actions have not matched such rhetoric. Under a non-public 2009 memorandum, federal agencies must consult with OWHC before producing documents that involve “White House equities.”
In practice, White House consultations occur whenever documents are politically sensitive or potentially embarrassing to the administration or otherwise newsworthy. The result of these consultations is that agency FOIA productions are delayed precisely when prompt disclosure is most important.
The consultation process can take months or even years. No statute authorizes FOIA consultations between agencies and the White House in such circumstances, and delaying FOIA productions based on potential political consequences violates both the letter and the spirit of FOIA.
CoA Institute has filed many FOIA requests that are now being delayed by White House equities consultations with OWHC. In its lawsuit, CoA Institute asks that the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to release FOIA requests from unnecessary delays caused by the Obama administration’s unwarranted review policy.