President Obama Orders Increased Disclosure Under the Freedom of Information Act

On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama ordered an increase in government transparency by expanding the interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act. To obtain many types of public records, a written request must be submitted to the controlling agency. However, rules for granting or restricting access to the requested record will now resemble those in place before the Bush administration.

President Obama's "Presidential Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act" effectively overturns an October 2001 Bush Administration decision to err on the side of non-disclosure by citing any legal justification for withholding documents. Rather than finding reasons to withhold information, Obama said agencies handling FOIA requests should instead default to providing information whenever possible. According to the memorandum:

  • "All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA."

The memorandum, which calls for the attorney general to make these changes within 120 days, also calls for agencies to find new ways to proactively disclose information where possible, instead of waiting for requests.

Additionally, President Obama also issued the "Executive Order on Presidential Records," which removes the ability of former presidents to claim executive privilege to restrict their records, and creates a review process for the attorney general to approve any of the current president's claims of executive privilege.

For more on both of President Obama's announcements, read this article from Editor & Publisher.