New documents obtained through Freedom of the Press Foundation’s lawsuit against the Justice Department reveal that the Obama administration - the self described “most transparent administration ever” - aggressively lobbied behind the scenes in 2014 to kill modest Freedom of Information Act reform that had virtually unanimous support in Congress.
Three months ago, we sued the Justice Department (DOJ) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for communications between the DOJ and Congress, since there were vague reports that the DOJ may have opposed the bill - despite much of it being based word-for-word based on the Justice Department’s own policies.
Today, we are publishing a detailed memo authored by the Justice Department that strongly objected to almost every aspect of FOIA reform put forth by the House of Representatives at the time.
The bill in question - known as the FOIA Act - was unanimously passed by the House in early 2014. The Senate passed a similar bill - known as the FOIA Improvement Act - in December of 2014, but a final vote in the House to merge the two bills was held up at the last minute by then-Speaker of the House John Boehner and the session of Congress ended before it could become law. It was unclear at the time why the bill did not come up for a final vote, but the Washington Post later reported that a few federal agencies—including the Justice Department—had “warned” lawmakers about some provisions in the bill.
But these new documents show it went well beyond that: the Justice Department vehemently objected to both House and Senate members on nearly all aspects of the bill from the very start, and made clear: “The Administration strongly opposes passage of [the FOIA Act].”Notably, the Justice Department indicates that this policy memo (published in full below) is not just the agency’s individual opinion, but that it is speaking for the entire Obama administration.