Last month, Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) detailed how it intended to investigate rumors of the Trump Administration directing federal agencies to ignore “oversight requests” from Democratic legislators.  Reports of the “new policy” sent the transparency community into a frenzy, particularly as they came on the heels of an opinion letter from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel that corroborated much of the scuttlebutt. As part of its investigation, CoA Institute sent a FOIA request to the General Services Administration (“GSA”) seeking access to various records concerning the agency’s policies or procedures for handling congressional oversight requests, congressional requests for information, and congressional requests from individual Members for the disclosure of agency documents.  We also requested copies of records evidencing any White House directives on pre-production consultation or review of requests from Congress or under the FOIA.

Last week, the GSA provided its final response.  The response leaves much to be desired, as the agency released only two documents.  The first is a February 20, 2015 order regarding congressional and intergovernmental inquiries; the second is a previously-secret April 15, 2009 White House memo that CoA Institute first made publicly known in June 2013.  The GSA did not find (or at least did not produce) anything pertaining to the Trump Administration’s new policy to respond only to Republican congressional leadership.

The General Services Administration’s failure to locate relevant records is curious because its acting administrator, Timothy Horne, previously testified before Congress that “the [Trump] Administration has instituted a new policy that matters of oversight need to be requested by the Committee chair.”  Admittedly, he clarified that the White House itself hadn’t distributed a finalized, written version of its policy, but it stands to reason that the GSA would still have some record of its effort to formalize whatever oral directions were issued by the White House.  Similarly, to the extent the GSA may now be processing any congressional disclosure requests under the FOIA, the agency should have records concerning those policies and procedures.  None were given to CoA Institute.

We have filed an appeal challenging the adequacy of the General Services Administration’s search efforts.  And we are still waiting for the Office of Personnel Management to respond to a similar request.  In the meantime, CoA Institute remains committed to holding the Executive Branch accountable to one of the most important principles of good government: transparency.

Ryan Mulvey is Counsel at Cause of Action Institute.