Transparency Groups: Finalize Release to One, Release to All FOIA Policy

Cause of Action Institute and Sunlight Foundation file petition to advance rule that would promote broad disclosure of agency records

Washington, DC – Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) today joined the Sunlight Foundation in filing a petition for rulemaking demanding the Trump administration move forward with a rule to promote government transparency and broad public disclosure of agency records. The Release to One, Release to All rule, first proposed by the Obama administration, mandates that agencies make records produced in response to Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests also publicly available on the agencies’ websites, with certain limited exceptions. CoA Institute also led a broad coalition of government transparency organizations in sending a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) and Department of Justice Office of Information Policy urging action to finalize the rule.

CoA Institute Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor James Valvo: “‘Release to One, Release to All’ is a great way to increase the amount of government information in the public sphere. When agencies release information under FOIA, with limited exceptions, it is prepared for release to the public. The Obama administration has already run the pilot program and the Department of Justice has already accepted public comment on the policy. It’s time to finalize it.”

Sunlight Foundation Deputy Director Alex Howard: “Despite multiple requests for updates from the Justice Department over the past year, it does not appear the Trump administration has any plans to finalize and promulgate this policy, or even answer basic questions about why it has stalled. Our petition compels the Trump administration to either move forward with disclosure and implementation, or explain why they don’t believe the policy is workable. The ‘Release to One, Release to All’ policy for the Freedom of Information Act has broad support within the transparency community, and we deserve an explanation as to why progress has ground to a halt after months of analysis, planning and responsive feedback to a request for public comment.”

On June 30, 2016, President Obama directed a review of the feasibility of such a FOIA policy. More than ten months have passed since the January 1, 2017 completion deadline for that review. Despite this analysis and gathering public comments, progress on the rule has now halted completely without explanation.

For these reasons, CoA Institute led a group of 22 organizations in sending a letter to the White House and Justice Department urging them to take the next step in finalizing the policy.

The letter states:

“Release to One, Release to All” is sound public policy that would increase government transparency and leverage the existing investment in FOIA disclosures… Placing this information in the public domain would allow the public to know what type of information is being requested, to search these prior productions for information relevant to their own purposes, and, perhaps, decrease the number for future requests or facilitate future requesters making more informed and targeted requests. What’s more, placing these information resources into the public domain has the potential to create unknown benefits, such as analyses of patterns in FOIA requests and harnessing of the information for other uses… We urge you to take the next step and finalize the policy.

The petition for rulemaking can be found here.
The letter can be found here.

For information regarding this press release, please contact Zachary Kurz, Director of Communications at CoA Institute:

Lawsuit Seeks Records on White House’s Failure to Update FOIA Fee Guidance

Washington, D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) today filed a lawsuit against the White House Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) for records that would show the agency’s action, or lack thereof, to review two pending petitions for rulemaking, one of which is seeking an update to its official guidance concerning Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) processing fees. OMB’s FOIA fee guidance on this issue is critical to government transparency because federal agencies are required by law to conform to OMB’s guidance and routinely deny fee waiver requests that should be granted, based on recent judicial precedent.

CoA Institute Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor James Valvo: “Steep FOIA processing fees are a substantial roadblock for many organizations and individuals attempting to reveal how their government makes decisions. It is critical that OMB take action to update its outdated guidance document, which conflicts with binding statutory and judicial authorities.”

On June 2, 2016, CoA Institute submitted a petition for rulemaking to OMB asking it “to issue updated guidance to agencies on how to make [FOIA] fee determinations in compliance with binding statutory and judicial authorities.” This update is necessary because, “[d]espite Congress amending the FOIA several times during the last twenty-nine years and courts interpreting those changes, OMB has not updated its fee guidance since 1987. Federal agencies, however, continue to rely on OMB for guidance when issuing FOIA fee regulations.”

CoA Institute received no communication from OMB regarding this petition. On March 10, 2017, CoA Institute sent a FOIA request to OMB seeking all records that relate to the petition for rulemaking. OMB acknowledged receipt of the FOIA request, but two subsequent requests for updates on the processing of the request have gone unanswered.

The Archivist of the United States has also forwarded a recommendation from the FOIA Advisory Committee to OMB asking it to update this FOIA fee guidance document.

The full lawsuit is available here

White House Should Release 100K Public Comments on Reforming Government

Washington, D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) today submitted a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request to the White House Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) seeking access to the more than 100,000 public comments OMB collected regarding “improvements to the organization and functioning of the Executive Branch.”

Between May and June, 2017, Americans were invited to submit suggestions to OMB in response to President Trump’s March 13 executive order calling for a comprehensive plan to reorganize the Executive Branch. The comments, however, have not been made publicly available.

CoA Institute President and CEO John Vecchione: “Public input can be a fundamental component of government reform, but there is little reason to sacrifice transparency. Given that President Trump’s executive order calls for the possible overhaul of the entire Executive Branch, the need for transparency and open public scrutiny of this matter is paramount.”

In addition to the website, which is routinely used by the federal government for gathering public comments, OMB also collected comments via an online form housed on a White House website. There appears to be a discrepancy between the reported number of comments and suggestions submitted via the reorganizing website, which states that “100,000+ suggestions and ideas” were submitted, and, which states that only 2,019 comments were received.

CoA Institute today requested access to all comments, suggestions, and ideas submitted to the OMB as part of this effort. The FOIA request is available here.

For information regarding this press release, please contact Zachary Kurz, Director of Communications:

Cause of Action Institute Petitions OMB to Update FOIA Fee Guide

Today, Cause of Action Institute filed a petition for rulemaking with the White House Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), urging it to update its obsolete guidance document that federal agencies rely on when making FOIA fee determinations.  The petition seeks to implement Cause of Action Institute’s landmark legal win in Cause of Action v. Federal Trade Commission where the D.C. Circuit ruled OMB’s guidance conflicts with the FOIA statute.


In 1986, Congress passed, and President Reagan signed into law, the Freedom of Information Reform Act of 1986.  Section 1803 of the Act directed OMB to provide a uniform schedule of fees for all federal agencies and guidelines for how to apply that schedule.  On March 28, 1987, OMB finalized those guidelines.  Although Congress has amended the FOIA several times since 1986, OMB has never updated the guidance.

The failure by OMB to update its guidelines has resulted in costly, time-consuming litigation between agencies and requestors.  For example, in 2011 and 2012, CoA Institute sent a series of FOIA requests to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) requesting access to records, to be classified as a representative of the news media, and for a public interest fee waiver.  The FTC refused the CoA Institute requests for fee classification and waiver by relying on its outdated FOIA fee regulations, which in turn relied on the outdated OMB guidance.  After the district court refused to apply the statutory standard, CoA Institute appealed the case to the D.C. Circuit, which ruled that many of the regulatory and judicial standards that had built up over time were in conflict with the statute as amended by the Open Government Act of 2007.


U.S. News & World Report: Federal Budget Office Asks All Agencies to Cut Conference, Travel Costs

Federal Budget Office Asks All Agencies to Cut Conference, Travel Costs

May 14, 2012

Since news of the General Services Administration’s $820,000 party in Las Vegas broke, the White House announced its putting the kibosh on the good times that have previously rolled on the taxpayers’ dime.

“One of the Federal government’s most fundamental responsibilities is to serve as a careful steward of taxpayer dollars to make sure that every dollar is well spent and directed toward areas of high returns,” says a memo released by the Office of Management and Budget. [Washington Whispers: GSA Heads Slammed During Congressional Hearing]

The OMB is asking government agencies to cut travel expenses by 30 percent before 2013, part of the plan which it estimates will save the government $1.2 billion.

The new guidelines also outline additional safeguards to protect against wasteful spending. Within each agency, the deputy secretary is now required to scrutinize budgets for conferences in which an agency anticipates to spend more than $100,000.

“I think it is clear that this is a direct response to the GSA,” says Dan Epstein, the Executive Director of Cause of Action, a group committed to tracking government spending and abuses, “It outlines conferences and travel…It is rather telling.”

The OMB’s new restrictions also prohibit federal agencies from spending more than $500,000 on conferences unless the head of the agency approves it, a safeguard that may have prevented the GSA abuses.

During congressional oversight hearings on the GSA incident, former GSA Chief Martha Johnson, who resigned over the incident, says she wasn’t aware of the excessive spending underway until after the lavish gifts and dinners were already purchased.


WhistleWatch: Cause of Action Not for Profit Advocate Seeks Information on Whistleblower Retaliation From Federal Agencies

The WhistleWatch Blog: Cause of Action Not for Profit Advocate Seeks Information on Whistleblower Retaliation From Federal Agencies

22:20, April 23, 2012 by Evelynn Brown, J.D., LL.M

Amazing how quickly the Government Services Administration (GSA) scandal can rally members of Congress to take a fresh look at the failure of the federal government to protect their own whistleblowers. and other advocacy groups have been sounding the alarm for years, seemingly to no avail. However, the recent request by Cause of Action, a non-profit, public benefit corporation to the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget to perform a government-wide audit to determine whether agencies are abiding by whistleblower protection laws looks promising.  Congratulations to Daniel Epstein on this bold move who joins us in seeking to know exactly how much the federal government is spending to retaliate against federal whistleblowers.  Mr. Epstein’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and related requests are available below. We further note the comments by GSA Inspector General Brian Miller that Regional Administrator Jeff Neely “‘squashed’ agency whistleblowers ‘like a bug”  should garner immediate public interest in abuse of authority and tax payer waste.  Perhaps now there will be renewed interest in the plight of whistleblowers who honor the Fourteen Principles of Ethical Conduct as revelations surface on the insidious long-term, financial impact on tax payers when whistleblowers are mistreated. Better protections of federal employees are desperately needed.  The recent Senate committee report on S. 743 to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), can be found at this site with comments from our colleague, David Pardo.  Essentially federal agencies have been hiding the costs of retaliation against whistleblowers because Congress does not require them to publish the information. If the federal government loses a case (overwhelming majority of complaints are never recorded or are dismissed or settled because the whistleblower is pressured), the agency must reimburse the Judgment Fund.  This money comes out of the agency budget (funded by tax payers), usually the offending official’s department.  What is odd is that even when federal executives are aware of retaliation by management, they will still approve bonuses and excellent performance appraisals for those who violate whistleblower protection laws.  Rarely does any executive get called on the carpet.  There has been a lack of enforcement proceedings against management committing prohibited personnel practices. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) reviews federal employee whistleblower complaints recently requested action be taken against 2 higher-ups in the Dover Air Force Base mortuary scandal.  Among other things, the investigation showed a tone set at the top to willfully harm the whistleblowers who reported gruesome details of how deceased veterans remains were being mishandled including sawing off an arm of a dead Marine and veteran remains left in boxes, leaking blood, for months.  This article discusses the severe retaliation including forensic analysis of computer hard drives reserved for espionage cases.  With government agencies and corporations openly calling whistleblowers snitches, rats, disloyal and character flawed, the tax payers must ask themselves some hard questions.  Do you want government employees to protect your money?  Or do you want it to be used to harm public servants who report misappropriation of funding, criminal conduct and dangers to public health and safety? WhistleWatch » Blog Archive » Cause of Action Not for Profit Advocate Seeks Information on Whistleblower Retaliation From Federal Agencies.

Federal News Radio: Dan Epstein Discussing Whistleblower Protection

Federal News Radio “In Depth” host Francis Rose talks with Dan Epstein about how the federal government is failing to protect whistleblowers.

Listen to the interview here.