On the very first day of his administration, President Obama promised the country that he would be the most transparent administration ever and issued an executive order telling all federal agencies to be more responsive to Freedom of Information Act requests and to treat maximum transparency as the default answer. All of that has turned out to be a lie. In reality, his administration has thwarted efforts at transparency at every turn. Here’s a perfect example.
Despite this FOIA victory, the fight is not over. The DOJ is attempting to push through a dozen other changes to its FOIA regulations, some of which are just as alarming as that which was taken off the table.
Discerning which of the dozens of agencies in the Department of Justice to send a FOIA request to is tricky. This is why under the current FOIA regulations a requester is allowed to write directly to the Department of Justice FOIA office for documents and a FOIA professional in turn sends the request to the correct component. However, under the proposed regulation “A requester must write directly to the FOIA office of the Department component that maintains those records.”
This is unfair, as it is absurd to expect anyone other than an expert FOIA requester to be able to determine which Department of Justice component to send their request to, especially when the agency itself is oftentimes unclear on which component possesses specific records. Such an exclusive barrier is antithetical to the idea of democratization of information…
The Department of Justice is also trying to sell an antiquated notion of what it means to be a news organization. If Justice has their way, it would be more difficult for news agencies to obtain records because to classify as a member of the news media, an organization must “make their products available through a variety of means to the general public.” This would discount, most obviously, media outlets that exist only on the Internet. Organizations like ProPublica – which just received its second Pulitzer Prize in as many years for its reporting on the financial crisis – would not qualify as representatives of the news media.
Say one thing, do the opposite.