The Obama White House has quietly rewritten a portion of the Freedom Of Information Act to exclude what it calls “White House equities” from being released without a White House review. The rewrite was inspired by a 2009 memo by then White House counsel, Greg Craig:
The Greg memo is described in detail in a new study made public today by Cause of Action, a Washington-based nonprofit watchdog group that monitors government transparency and accountability.
How serious an attack on the public’s right to know is the Obama administration’s invention of the “White House equities” exception?
“FOIA is designed to inform the public on government behavior; White House equities allow the government to withhold information from the media, and therefore the public, by having media requests forwarded for review. This not only politicizes federal agencies, it impairs fundamental First Amendment liberties,” Cause of Action explains in its report.
The equities exception is breathtaking in its breadth. As the Greg memo put it, any document request is covered, including “congressional committee requests, GAO requests, judicial subpoenas and FOIA requests.”
And it doesn’t matter what format the documents happen to be in because, according to Greg, the equities exception “applies to all documents and records, whether in oral, paper, or electronic form, that relate to communications to and from the White House, including preparations for such communications.”
What this effectively does is stop federal agencies from answering FOIA requests which might include “White House equities” within the 20 days required by law. There is no apparent limit to the review time the White House can take with its “review” of such requests. Since the White House gets to decide what are “White House equities” and how long it will take to review requests which include them, the change effectively neuters the intent of the FOIA law. This gives the White House the ability to delay release of such information until it is politically beneficial for them to do so (or, in reality, not at all):
In one case cited by Cause of Action, the response to a request from a Los Angeles Times reporter to the Department of the Interior for “communications between the White House and high-ranking Interior officials on various politically sensitive topics” was delayed at least two years by the equities review.
And that isn’t the only department in which such delays have become common:
“Cause of Action is still waiting for documents from 16 federal agencies, with the Department of Treasury having the longest pending request of 202 business days.
“The Department of Energy is a close second at 169 business days. The requests to the Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services have been pending for 138 business days,” the report said.
This is what political subversion looks like. It is also a fairly common example of this administration saying one thing and actually doing the opposite.
Most transparent administration ever. Another lie worthy of 4 Pinocchios.