White House scrubs site in attempt to make office 'exempt'
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The White House has scrubbed its Web site of evidence it has reversed its policies on allowing public access to information to which it is legally entitled. However, a source told RAW STORY that the scrub would have no legal implications.
Sometime over the weekend, White House computer technicians removed from government Web sites any references to the Office of Administration or its previous compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests.
Where visitors once just found information about how to file public records requests or view annual reports on the Office of Administration's FOIA compliance, the White House has appended the following admonition:
"The Office of Administration, whose sole function is to advise and assist the President, and which has no substantial independent authority, is not subject to FOIA and related authorities. However, these pages have been maintained due to the Presidential Records Act."
Two other sites that previously listed the OA as subject to FOIA regulations have since been updated to reflect the opposite position, with similar stark denials of public accessibility at the top of each page.
The White House scrub has no legal implications, a source familiar with the case told RAW STORY. The office previously had a set of FOIA protocols and handled FOIA requests, and the lastest changes don't reverse those positions. Besides, in the digital age, making information disappear down the Memory Hole is not as easy as the administration might like.
The move appears to be a direct response to claims first launched by a private watchdog group that the Bush administration is trying to subvert long-standing open-government policies in order to insulate itself politically.
The White House's attempt to erase the policies was discovered on the same day Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington submitted a new brief in its FOIA lawsuit seeking information on five million missing e-mails sent by the president's advisers on Republican Party-owned accounts.
CREW first documented the White House efforts Tuesday, and like Winston Smith's protecting a photograph from the Memory Hole in George Orwell's 1984, CREW has maintained records of the White House's previous policy.
A Justice Department Web site, which CREW previously pointed to as contradicting the administration's claims, still lists a phone number for Office of Administration FOIA officer Carol Ehrlich.
RAW STORY's attempts to reach Ehrlich were unsuccessful Tuesday. After calling the number listed on the DOJ site, a reporter was transferred three times before being given a separate number that rang to Ehrlich's voicemail. A message was not immediately returned.