Archived Financial Crisis Records Kept in the Dark

     (CN) – The D.C. Circuit rejected a government watchdog’s request for records created by a commission that issued a report on the causes of the 2010 financial crisis.
     President Barack Obama established in 2009the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which reported its conclusions on the “causes, domestic and global, of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States.” Its report was released to the public in January 2011.
     The commission disbanded a month later, and its records were deposited with the National Archives.
     Cause of Action, a nonprofit dedicated to government accountability, then sought access to the records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
     The D.C. Circuit ruled Friday, however, that the records were not transformed into an agency record subject to the FOIA when they were transferred to the Archives.
     As precedent, the court considered a case that asked whether President John F. Kennedy’s autopsy records, transferred to the National Archives, were subject to an FOIA request.
     “We held they were not, in part because they were ‘personal presidential materials when they were first created, and therefore at no time were they ever agency records.’ In other words, the depositing of these materials with the Archives did not convert them into ‘agency records’ subject to FOIA,” Judge Arthur Randolph wrote for the three-judge panel.
     Similarly, the transfer of legislative documents to the archives does not transform them into agency records open to public scrutiny.
     “The main function of the archives is to preserve documents of enduring value from all three branches of government,” Randolph wrote. “The archives does not use documents created in the three branches in any operational way, or indeed in any way comparable to any other federal agency. It may control them in a sense, but its control consists in cataloguing, storing, and preserving, not unlike a ‘warehouse.'”
     The FOIA does not define “agency records,” but the court found it unlikely Congress would intend to expose legislative branch documents to the public simply because they were given to the archives for safe-keeping.”Yet that would be the consequence of what Cause of Action proposes,” the 11-page opinion states.

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