(CN) – The D.C. Circuit ordered the White House budget office to release redacted portions of 14 documents to a consumer advocacy group seeking to learn which public agencies submit materials to Congress without prior clearance from the Office of Management and Budget.
The budget office must clarify its reasons for withholding some of the information, the three-judge panel ruled, rejecting its assertion that the redacted portions were categorically exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
The advocacy group Public Citizen filed a FOIA request for documents related to the budget office’s legislative and budgetary clearance policies.
The office released redacted versions of 14 documents, claiming the redacted portions were protected by two FOIA exemptions: Exemption 2, which covers predominantly internal documents; and Exemption 5, which protects pre-decisional and deliberative documents.
A federal judge in Washington, D.C., backed the government’s decision to withhold the redacted portions of the documents. However, the federal appeals court disagreed.
“Having reviewed the unredacted documents, we conclude that they do not relate predominantly to OMB’s internal practices and are thus unprotected by Exemption 2,” Judge Tatel wrote.
“And because Exemption 5 requires that materials be both pre-decisional and deliberative, it likewise provides no protection for the majority of the documents’ content,” the judge added (emphasis in original).
The appellate court reversed in part and remanded, instructing the district court “to order the release of the documents with any redaction necessary to protect portions that qualify as both pre-decisional and deliberative.”
In a partial dissent, Senior Judge Williams said the government had “established the first two requirements for withholding under Exemption 2,” but not Exemption 5.
Both authors of the majority and dissenting opinions redacted portions of their rulings that have not yet been made public.