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Obama admin secretly opposed FOIA reform in Congress
by via Freedom of the Press Foundation
Friday Mar 11th, 2016 9:21 PM
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - March 9, 2016 - New documents obtained through Freedom of the Press Foundation’s lawsuit against the Justice Department reveal that the Obama administration - the self described “most transparent administration ever” - aggressively lobbied behind the scenes in 2014 to kill modest Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reform that had virtually unanimous support in Congress.
A two-page memo of talking points drafted by the Justice Department, and obtained through the lawsuit, shows that the administration opposed virtually every major aspect of the FOIA Act of 2014, which passed unanimously out of the House, before failing to come up for a final vote at the end of 2014’s Congressional session.

VICE’s Jason Leopold, who published his own investigation today based on the documents Freedom of the Press Foundation has obtained, is reporting that the administration is making similar objections to the latest FOIA reform bills currently making their way through Congress.

“While many transparency advocates have been critical of the Obama administration’s claim to being the ‘most transparent administration ever’ for a long time, their secret opposition to FOIA reform represents a new low,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation. “These bills were modest and uncontroversial, and supported unanimously in Congress. It’s shameful the Obama administration still refuses to embrace robust transparency reform, let alone provisions that would merely codify what is already supposedly their policy.”

The bill in question - known as the FOIA Act - was unanimously passed by the House in early 2014. The Senate passed a similar bill - known as the FOIA Improvement Act - in December of 2014, but a final vote in the House to merge the two bills was held up at the last minute by then-Speaker of the House John Boehner and the session of Congress ended before it could become law. It was unclear at the time why the bill did not come up for a final vote, but the Washington Post later reported that a few federal agencies—including the Justice Department—had “warned” lawmakers about some provisions in the bill.

But these new documents show it went well beyond that: the Justice Department vehemently objected to both House and Senate members on nearly all aspects of the bill from the very start, and made clear: “The Administration strongly opposes passage of [the FOIA Act].” Notably, the Justice Department indicates that this policy memo (published in full below) is not just the agency’s individual opinion, but that it is speaking for the entire Obama administration.

Freedom of the Press Foundation sued the Justice Department for communications between it and Congress in late 2015, after its FOIA request for those communications went unfulfilled for over a year.

Next week is “Sunshine Week,” a week-long Washington D.C. tradition that intends to promote dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

For more information:

Freedom of the Press Foundation’s blog post analysing the documents:

VICE’s investigative report based on the documents:

Full DOJ memo laying out opposition to FOIA reform:

All 114 pages of FOIA’d documents:

Freedom of the Press Foundation