Open government group blasts Obama’s not-so-transparent administration

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Government transparency advocates are again confronting the Obama administration, this time over a White House memo aimed at filtering Freedom of Information Act requests.

The longstanding practice is said to have hindered the free flow of information from federal agencies to the public, and undermined an important open government tool: the FOIA or public records request.

On Monday, a bipartisan coalition of 25 nonprofit organizations called on President Obama for change.

In a letter spearheaded by Cause of Action, a government accountability group, the coalition urged the president directly to “withdraw” a 2009 memo or “provide further guidance” to federal agencies regarding the administration’s internal policy of requiring agencies to consult with White House attorneys before releasing certain document requests.

“Public promises of transparency are no excuse for secret memos that prevent it,” said Dan Epstein, executive director for Cause of Action.

The Craig memo, named for its creator, former White House lawyer Gregory Craig, uses the nebulous phrase “White House equities” to define what information agencies must forward to the president’s lawyers.

The phrase is legally undefined and sidesteps FOIA restrictions, causing administrative confusion, response delays and potentially worse.

“’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,” reported, a letter signatory.

In July, the Society of Professional Journalists, also a signatory, sent its own letter to President Obama with the support of 38 other groups, alleging the “politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies.”

“We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear,” the letter states.


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