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White House Office Not Covered by FOIA

Official White House Photo (Pete Souza)The White House Office of Administration is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, a U.S. Court of Appeals found (PDF) yesterday.

The OA, established in 1977, provides support services to the president including financial management, information technology and research support.

Yesterday’s decision upholds a district court’s finding that the OA is not an agency and therefore does not have to comply with FOIA. Its explanation: The OA performs support functions and "lacks substantial independent authority."

The case was filed in 2007 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washingtonafter White House e-mail system problems resulted in the loss of millions of e-mail messages.

Although it may not technically have been subject to FOIA in the past, the OA has complied with the transparency law in the past--up until during the Bush Administration. The OA even has a FOIA link on its Web page. But the page states that although the office is not subject to FOIA, "this information has been maintained due to the Presidential Records Act."

Despite the ruling, CREW and several other transparency organizations have asked (PDF) the Obama administration to require the OA to continue filling FOIA requests.

"We are disappointed in the D.C. Circuit's ruling, which failed to come to grips with the fact that OA is not the functional equivalent of the sort of close presidential adviser Congress intended to exclude from the FOIA's definition of agency," said CREW chief counsel Anne Weismann in a statement.

We’ve contacted the White House, and we’ll let you know as soon as they respond.

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