OIP Guidance

Presidential Statement and White House Memorandum on the FOIA Issued During Sunshine Week

On March 16, 2010, during Sunshine Week, the White House issued both a Presidential Statement and a Memorandum on the FOIA.  First, President Obama issued a statement on the FOIA.  In his Statement, the President applauded the work that has been done so far to increase transparency.  He also recommitted his administration “to be the most open and transparent ever.”  After highlighting some of the transparency initiatives the White House has undertaken, the President concluded by stating that “our work is not done” and that “[w]e will continue to work toward an unmatched level of transparency, participation, and accountability across the entire Administration.”

On that same day, Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff, and Bob Bauer, Counsel to the President, issued a Memorandum to the Heads of Departments and Agencies on the Freedom of Information Act.  The Memorandum highlights the successful work that has been done by agencies “to make the government more open and accountable to the American people.”  The White House also expressed appreciation to agencies for their efforts in implementing the President's Memorandum on the FOIA and confidence that agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports will demonstrate the progress achieved thus far.

At the same time, the White House points out that “more work remains to be done, and such work requires persistent effort.”  The White House requests department and agency heads to take action in two specific areas “to ensure full implementation of the President's Memorandum on FOIA.” 

First, agencies are instructed to update all their FOIA guidance and training materials “to include the principles articulated in the President's Memorandum.”  Second, the White House directs agencies to “assess whether [they] are devoting adequate resources to responding to FOIA requests promptly and cooperatively, consistent with the requirements for addressing this Presidential priority.”

The Memorandum closes by noting that agencies may already be taking these and other steps as part of their drafting of their Open Government Plans, which are being developed as a result of the Open Government Directive.

As these White House transmissions convey, agencies should be very proud of the work they have accomplished thus far in improving transparency.  Although there is more work to be done in the year ahead, a preliminary review of agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports reveals that the key agencies across the government, which handle the bulk of the FOIA requests, have made real progress in implementing the President's Memorandum on the FOIA and the Attorney General's FOIA Guidelines.  Complete details about agency activities and progress will be forthcoming in OIP's report on its review and analysis of the Chief FOIA Officer Reports.  A summary containing highlights from those reports is available on our website.