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Sunshine Week Document Friday: Rahm’s Memo On FOIA

March 11, 2011

"More @#$#% work needs to be done" on FOIA!"

Sunshine Week 2011 Update!!

DC was a lot less exciting after “Frodo Rahm Emanuel of the nine fingers” leaves us today.  I mean, come on, Rahm -President Obama’s Chief of Staff- was a character!  He sliced off his finger while cutting meat at Arby’s (and infected it by swimming in Lake Michigan);  his brother, Ari Emanuel, was the basis for Ari Gold in Entourage; Rahm once sent a dead fish to pollster he didn’t like; he even (allegedly) angrily confronted disgraced Rep. Eric Massa (of tickle-fighting with men infamy) in a shower in the House of Representatives –while they both were naked.  Oh yeah, he also (allegedly) screamed “Don’t f*** this up!” into Tony Blair’s face… and he was  a great ballet dancer.

Buy my personal favorite Rahm moment is his 2010 Sunshine Week Memo (WH Counsel Bob Bauer signed it too.)  Sunshine Week is the week when open government advocates celebrate and push for more openness in government.  In 2010 the Obama Administration was hoping to tout its transparency reforms throughout the week.  It had promised to be, after all, the most open and transparent in history.” Attorney General Holder gave a much-publicized speech celebrating the Administration’s new FOIA policy.

But several independent audits –including one from the National Security Archive– found that FOIA policies had not markedly improved from the Bush era.  As we wrote, “the clear Obama message for Freedom of Information [met] mixed results” from the agencies.  Backlogs persisted and agency uncoopetiveness was widespread –the oldest outstanding FOIA request remained more than 18 years old.  This story of FOIA shortcomings –not the Administration’s transparency successes– got the ink in the New York Times, Washington Post, and AP.

Then came Rahm’s (and Bauer’s) memo to each and every agency and department head.  Perhaps it was a coincidence it came just a day after the Achive’s audit.  Perhaps not.  Either way, as a Freedom of Information advocate, it sure felt good to have Rham Emmanuel on you side.

The Chief of Staff (after “appreciating” the agencies’ early efforts) went on to explain to every single agency head that “more work needs to be done” on FOIA and that they must take “several specific steps” to carry out President Obama’s policy.

The specific steps included, “updating guidance and training materials” to include the president’s instructions for a more open FOIA policy, and “assess[ing] whether you [as an agency] are devoting adequate resources to responding to FOIA requests promptly and cooperatively.”

So… One year later?  Have agencies followed Rahm’s FOIA orders?  Or will he have to send the agencies another howler from his Mayor’s Office in Chicago?

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