The White House will no longer subject its Office of Administration to the Freedom of Information Act, according to a final rule added to the U.S. Federal Register Tuesday morning and effective the same day.
The White House said that the new rule is consistent with other legal interpretations of the FOIA law.
“The Office of Administration, as an entity whose sole function is to advise and assist the President of the United States, is not an agency under the Freedom of Information Act, or the Privacy Act of 1974, nor does its implementation of Executive Order 13526 (which declassifies national security information) affect members of the public,” the rule states. “Accordingly, the provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations to be removed are without legal effect.”
The White House also said that regulation requiring the public a chance to comment for 30 days on policy changes are “inapplicable” because they are “unnecessary” under the law, making the change effective immediately.
The policy shift comes in the middle of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.
The Office of Administration is also responsible for archiving emails and the move comes amid controversy over Hillary Clinton’s storing of four years’ worth of secretary of state emails on her private server in her New York Home, WND reported.
While other offices in the White House have been exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, the Office of Administration had responded to requests for 30 years, USA TODAY also reported.
“This is an office that operated under the FOIA for 30 years, and when it became politically inconvenient, they decided they weren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act any more,” sTom Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch told USA TODAY.
During the Bush Administration the organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW sued over emails deleted by the White House. The White House initially complied with the FOIA request, but then stopped. In 2009, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that the office was not subject to the FOIA and that White House e-mails must be released under the Presidential Records Act — but not until at least five years after the end of the administration, according to the USA TODAY report.
The White House said on Tuesday that they are committed to openness in government. Press Secretary Josh Earnest also said that the change will not impact their compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.
“This is a matter of just cleaning up the records that are on the books. It has no impact at all on the policy that we have maintained from the beginning to comply with the Freedom of Information Act when it’s appropriate,” Earnest said in the White House press briefing on Tuesday. “It also has no bearing on the Office of Administration and the role that they do play in ensuring that the administration is the most transparent administration in history.”
Earnest said that the Office of Administration will still voluntarily release the White House visitor’s log and the list of White House employee salaries. While people can still submit requests to the office, it is not subject to FOIA, Earnest added.
Earnest said that in 2014, the Obama administration processed 647,142 FOIA requests, and over 91 percent of those requests resulted in the release of either some or all of the requested records.
However according to an Associated Press report, the Obama administration has censored or denied access to records more frequently than ever in 2013 and cited more legal reasons than ever for exempting them, the Hill reported