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FOIA News: Chaffetz blames White House memo for FOIA delays

FOIA News (2015-16)Kevin SchmidtComment

Chaffetz blames White House memo for FOIA delays

By Josh Gerstein, Politico, June 2, 2015

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz charged Tuesday that President Barack Obama's White House is causing a a dramatic uptick in the backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests at government agencies.

At a hearing on FOIA, Chaffetz said the increasing delays in the disclosure process are traceable to an April 2009 memo issued by then-White House Counsel Greg Craig instructing agencies to consult with the White House before releasing any records involving "White House equities."

"If you’ve got the yahoos at the White House having to review each and every document that falls under FOIA, judicial subpoenas, Congressional committee requests, this is the heart of the backlog," Chaffetz shouted after hearing a panel of media witnesses describe problems with the law. "The heart of the backlog lies in this memo….'The White House equities.' You want to see the bottleneck? Look at the White House….This doesn’t say comply with the law. Does anywhere in the FOIA it say the White House general counsel’s office should review FOIA requests before it's given to the public or the media. No."

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Oversight chief sees 'chilling effect' from White House memo on records

By Megan R. Wilson, The Hill, June 2, 2015

An Obama administration memo has had a “chilling effect” on the government’s compliance with open records laws, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee argued Tuesday.

 Launching a two-day hearing on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) blasted an email that directs federal agencies to consult with President Obama’s general counsel following any document request that could involve the White House.

“If you’ve got the yahoos at the White House having to review every document that falls under FOIA,” Chaffetz said. “This is the heart of the backlog.”

The memo, dated April 2009, applies to any documents that may have “White House equities.” Chaffetz suggested the memo is being used as an excuse to delay the release of documents. 

“No, no, no, don’t fulfill the FOIA request,” Chaffetz said of the memo. “Send it here to the White House. We have equities! The White House equities!”

Read more here.