No Complete Record of FOIA Processing Available Until 2014

Anyone who wants to compile a complete record of the federal government's record of processing FOIA requests over the last decade will have to wait until 2014 to get access to information about the President's Office of Administration (OA) currently held at the George W. Bush Presidential Library. 

Prior to August 2007, OA routinely accepted and processed FOIA requests. That practice ended suddenly in the midst of litigation (brought by our coalition partner Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – CREW) over internal documents relating to a large number of missing emails from White House servers. The Bush Administration argued (successfully) that OA is not an agency because it does not exercise significant independent authority and, therefore, is not subject to FOIA.

As a result of the Bush Administration's decision to reclassify OA, all of its records are treated by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as Presidential records. This includes the reports OA submitted in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 to the Attorney General on its record of processing FOIA requests. Under the Presidential Records Act, the public cannot access any records for the first five years after the administration leaves office.

The OA's annual FOIA reports were freely available prior to August 2007. In fact, the Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy (OIP), which collects and analyzes these reports, still has an entry for OA under its lists of all agency annual FOIA reports for all of the years in question. The statistics from OA are also included in the government-wide summaries OIP prepared for 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 (OIP did not prepare a summary for 2004, and has not explained its absence from the record).

The Bush Administration's decision to cut off access to OA's records (a practice that has been maintained by the Obama Administration) was undoubtedly a blow to public accountability. It denies the public important information about the business of the government. The fact the decision also diminishes our ability to monitor FOIA compliance is yet another blow to open and transparent government.

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