FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: Op-Ed Asks If the White House is Misleading Congress on FOIA

FOIA News (2017)Kevin SchmidtComment

Is the White House misleading Congress over a contentious FOIA policy?

By Ryan Mulvey, The Hill, Sept. 20, 2017

The one thing that can be said with any certainty about the Trump administration’s position on transparency is that it is uncertain. Consider the president’s alleged directive to federal agencies that they ignore “oversight requests” from individual Democrat legislators, including ranking members on congressional committees. The directive, allegedly delivered by Uttam Dhillon, Special Assistant to the President, reportedly instructed agencies “not to cooperate” with requests except those from committee chairmen. 

News of the directive sparked outrage in Congress, yet the White House was initially reticent to provide any meaningful clarification. Bipartisan pushback only increased with the revelation of a May 1, 2017 Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion letter, which seemingly corroborated press reports but presented a distorted view of the law. The White House disavowed the OLC opinion letter as a statement of government-wide policy, but a newly-disclosed document from the General Services Administration (GSA) now presents a potentially troubling contradiction to that claim. At worst, it suggests the White House misled Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in an attempt to allay the senator’s concerns over the congressional inquiry policy.

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