White House office that handles freedom of information requests is free no longer
John Byrne
Published: Thursday August 23, 2007

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The White House Office of Administration "is responsible for responding to requesters who are seeking OA records under the (Freedom of Information Act)."

This from the White House website.

Only there's a small problem.

According to the Washington Post, "The Bush administration argued in court papers this week that the White House Office of Administration is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act as part of its effort to fend off a civil lawsuit seeking the release of internal documents about a large number of e-mails missing from White House servers."

The office's website, however, continues to say otherwise. Under a section titled "FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUESTS," it says:

The word "handbook," which appears to be a link on the site, is, alas, readable no longer.

"Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit group, filed a lawsuit in May seeking Office of Administration records about the missing e-mails, including when they were deleted from government computer files," the Post's Dan Eggen wrote Thursday. "CREW said it understood that internal White House documents had estimated at least 5 million e-mails were missing from March 2003 to October 2005.

"The Bush administration has not provided a number publicly," Eggen continues. "Some of the records may have been subject to a document preservation law administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. Congress has sought access to them as part of its probe into the administration's firing of nine U.S. federal prosecutors in 2006."

"One has to wonder if this is an effort by the White House to keep secret the details of how millions of White House e-mail suddenly went missing," remarked CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. "The OA's disingenuous claim that it is not subject to the FOIA is contradicted by its own actions and statements."

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists and editor of Secrecy News, said the White House may yet be successful. In a 1996 case, courts ruled in favor of the National Security Council, when it asked to exempt itself from the law even though it had complied previously.

"It's obnoxious, and it's a gesture of defiance against the norms of open government," Aftergood told the Post. "But it turns out that a White House body can be an agency one day and cease to be one the next day, as absurd as it may seem."