Stealing Our Sunshine


It's Sunshine Week.

Seem like as good a time as any to look at the Bush administration's continuing efforts to duck Freedom of Information Act requests. Last summer, you might remember that in response to requests for White House emails related to political fundraising, the administration tried to argue that the White House Office of Administration wasn't subject to FOIA, despite the fact that the office has a compliance officer and had posted on its website guides to FOIA procedures.

In response to that and other complaints about the administration's paltry FOIA compliance, Congress passed a bill late last year setting up a FOIA ombudsman to serve as a liaison between federal agencies and FOIA petitioners. The ombudsman would report to the National Archives and Records Administration. Bush reluctantly signed the bill late last year, but just weeks later slid a provision into his budget proposal that would move the ombudsman to the Justice Department. The Justice Department represents the administration in FOIA litigation. In fact, the Washington Post reports that the entire administration is still under a DOJ directive from 2001 instructing all federal agencies to lose all legal channels available to duck as many FOIA requests as possible. Bush wants the ombudsman to report to the people doing everything they can to undermine the people the ombudsman is supposed to represent.

The Treasury Department seems to have gotten the memo. The Department is this year's winner of the "RoseMary Award," presented by the National Security Archive to the least transparent federal agency over the previous year. It's named after Rose Mary Woods, Richard Nixon's secretary who famously erased 18 1/2 minutes of Watergate tapes. The Treasury apparently routinely unceremoniously destroys FOIA requests after stalling on them for months, sometimes years, at a time. One request is 21 years old.

On the flip side, it look as if the Bush administration is ready to bring back Total Information Awareness, albeit under a new name and slightly different auspices, to get around the minor inconvenience that the original TIA was actually banned by Congress.

Privacy in this administration seems to only apply to people working in their official capacity for the government, while "transparency" only applies to the citizenry.