Federal Judge Rules White House Administrative Office Not Subject to FOIA

This week, a federal district court judge ruled that the White House’s Office of Administration (OA) is not an “agency” and therefore is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). D.C. District Court Judge Kollar-Kotelly found that OA is not an “agency” on the grounds that it does not exercise substantial independent authority.

As a result of her finding, the judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the watchdog group Citizen’s for Responsible Ethics in Washington (CREW) which had sued OA seeking records regarding missing White House e-mails.

In May 2007, OA initially agreed to provide CREW with the records under a FOIA request. Then in August 2007, OA suddenly claimed it was not an agency and had no obligation to comply with the FOIA. Until the change in policy, the White House’s website described OA as an agency and it included instructions on how to file FOIA requests with the office.

The judge admitted that OA had functioned as an agency and processed FOIA requests from 1980 until August 2007. Although CREW filed its FOIA request in April 2007 – four months before OA changed its position – the court found that OA had no duty to respond to CREW’s FOIA request because OA was never an agency in the first place.

CREW’s executive director Melanie Sloan said, “We are disappointed in the ruling and believe the judge reached the wrong legal conclusion. CREW has appealed the decision.”

Another lawsuit filed by CREW and the National Security Archive seeking the recovery and preservation of millions of e-mail messages that were apparently deleted from White House computers between March 2003 and October 2005 is unaffected by this ruling and is still pending in federal court.