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White House: Congress Should Be Subject to FOIA (Updated)

Chaffetz has been pressing to improve the administration's response to FOIA requests. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Chaffetz has been pressing to improve the administration's response to FOIA requests. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 6:34 p.m. | FOIA for thee, not for me.  

The White House wants Congress to subject itself to FOIA requests — but doesn’t want the same level of sunshine to apply to the West Wing. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest appeared to have a preplanned quip at the ready Tuesday when asked about oversight hearings into the administration’s handling of FOIA requests.  

He noted the administration processed 647,000 FOIA requests in the prior fiscal year.  

“I would note that that is 647,000 more FOIA  requests than were processed by the United States Congress,” he said. “And those who are interested in advocating for genuine transparency and government should advocate for Congress being subject to those kinds of transparency measures.”  

But CBS reporter Mark Knoller turned the tables on Earnest later in the briefing.  

Would the White House be willing to subject itself to FOIA? (The White House, like Congress, also has an exemption from FOIA).  

Earnest noted the White House is covered by the Presidential Records Act, but that’s a far cry from FOIA’s mandates for prompt response to records requests.  

“It’s certainly a much greater demonstration of a commitment to transparency than Congress submits to,” Earnest said.  

When Knoller followed up, Earnest declined to endorse FOIA for the White House.  

“I think what we want is some kind of transparency in Congress. They’re the leading advocates for ensuring that the president and his administration live up to those kinds of requirements. And as I mentioned, the administration in just the last fiscal year processed more than 647,000 FOIA requests. Congress processed zero.”  

Here’s the full list of White House offices exempt from FOIA:

White House Office
Office of Administration
Office of the Vice President
Council of Economic Advisers
National Security Council
Office of Policy Development
Domestic Policy Council
Office of National AIDS Policy
National Economic Council
President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board

Here’s the list of parts of the Executive Office of the President that are subject to FOIA:

Council on Environmental Quality
Office of Management and Budget
Office of National Drug Control Policy
Office of Science and Technology Policy
Office of the United States Trade Representative

We’ll also note some members of Congress think FOIA should apply to the Capitol Police, which is exempt , in the wake of the guns-in-bathrooms incidents, which were initially kept from the public until a tipster sent Roll Call the photo of a Glock left in a toilet cover dispenser.  

House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has made FOIA response a priority .  

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