ASNE joines in letter asking House committee to reconsider recent FOIA guidance to Department of Treasury
ASNE was one of 21 organizations to join a letter sent by the Project on Government Oversight to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) regarding the congressman's recently stated and rather dangerous interpretation of the federal Freedom of Information Act. As reported by Buzzfeed last week, Chairman Hensarling advised Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that "the committee intends to retain control of all communications [between the committee and the agency] and will be entrusting them to [the] agency only for use in handling [matters in connection with the legislative, oversight and investigative jurisdictions of the committee]," a position also applicable to documents compiled or created by treasury in response to agency communications.
Although Congress is not subject to FOIA, agency communications with Congress have traditionally been available through FOIA, at least where (1) the records were created or obtained by an agency, (2) the records were in the agency's possession or control when requested via FOIA and (3) no FOIA exemption applies. In effect, Chairman Hensarling seems intent on creating an (very broad) exemption to FOIA, which would simply cover congressional communications (one could also envision that the White House might latch on to this if successful as the Office of the President is not covered by FOIA and reporters often use communications between that office and agencies to oversee the president). As our letter notes, the better way to approach this is to apply existing exemptions and withhold documents or, more accurately, redact information covered by exemptions as appropriate.