Coalition of Open Government Groups Confront President Obama On Policy that Frustrates Transparency

WASHINGTON – A coalition of 25 transparency groups and open government advocates sent a letter to President Obama today urging him to either “withdraw” or “provide guidance to agencies” on a 2009 White House Counsel memorandum that instructs all federal agencies to consult with White House attorneys on documents of interest to the Administration before releasing them.

Sent by then-White House Counsel Gregory Craig, the memorandum requires federal agencies to consult with the White House Counsel’s Office on any document request that may involve records implicating “White House equities.” An undefined term that allows the White House to affect agency decision-making over the release of documents, “White House equities” appears to refer to any interest the administration might have in agency records. “White House equities” consultation already delayed the release, and allowed for improper Executive branch review, of documents to numerous requesters, including members of the media, Congress, and the public.

Executive Director Dan Epstein of Cause of Action, a government oversight organization, which recently sued a dozen cabinet agencies for documents regarding “White House equities,” said:

“Public promises of transparency are no excuse for secret memos that prevent it. Americans deserve a government that is fair and open and delaying the release of documents prevents the ability of a free press to educate the public. Our hope is that President Obama honors the laws in place designed to provide transparency, such as the Freedom of Information Act, and withdraws this 2009 memo.”

Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org Dr. Patrice McDermott said:

“To put it simply, ‘White House equities’ is not a well-defined term. Not surprisingly, a policy based around protecting an ill-defined term can sow confusion among agency officials and the public, and make it very hard to know exactly the effect of the policy. In the interest of the unprecedented levels of openness in government committed to by the President, the White House needs to review this policy, and send agencies any additional guidance if needed.”

The full list of signatories:

American Library Association

Brechner Center for Freedom of Information

Cause of Action

Center for Effective Government

Defending Dissent Foundation

Electronic Privacy Information Center – EPIC

Essential Information

Government Accountability Project – GAP

James Madison Project

MuckRock

National Security Archive

National Security Counselors

Northern California Association of Law Libraries

National Freedom of Information Center

OpenTheGovernment.org

PEN American Center

Project On Government Oversight – POGO

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – PEER

Society of Professional Journalists

Special Libraries Association

The Sunlight Foundation

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse – TRAC

Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University

Washington Coalition for Open Government

Individual signatories (additional information for identification purposes only):

Mark Tapscott, Executive Editor, Washington Examiner

Submitted by apaulson on 09/29/2014