On Monday, USA Today published an article reporting “the White House is removing a federal regulation that subjects its Office of Administration to the Freedom of Information Act.”
For those who may not know, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an act which allows any member of the general public, including the press, to request information from the government.
Conveniently, this announcement came during Sunshine Week. News organizations and watchdog groups, such as the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), use this week to highlight issues of transparency in the government.
The White House said the cleanup of FOIA regulations is consistent with court rulings that hold that the office is not subject to the transparency law… Unlike other offices within the White House, which were always exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, the Office of Administration responded to FOIA requests for 30 years. Until the Obama administration, watchdog groups on the left and the right used records from the office to shed light on how the White House works.
While I have not yet had the need to submit a FOIA request, I have learned how vital they can be to a journalists, and more specifically, an investigative report.
As a member of IRE, I was shown at a recent watchdog workshop exactly how these requests work and how to use them to my advantage while reporting on a story. I further educated myself on the subject earlier this semester for a presentation I gave in my Communication Law and Ethics class on the first amendment and freedom of the press.
“You have a president who comes in and says, I’m committed to transparency and agencies should make discretionary disclosures whenever possible, but he’s not applying that to his own White House,” said [Anne] Weismann [of the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington].
There is no way to say for sure exactly how this will affect future investigations.
As the Roadhouse Blues go, “The future’s uncertain.”
But inevitably, a subsequent case will arise that will shed an incredibly negative light on both the decision and current White House administration.