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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

U.S. Must Reveal Agencies With Line to Congress

(CN) - The White House Office of Management and Budget must release a list of federal agencies that can transmit materials to Congress without presidential clearance, the D.C. Circuit ruled.

Public Citizen Inc. had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out which federal agencies have a direct line to Congress without going through the Office of Management and Budget.

The nonprofit public interest group sought documents related to the office's legislative and budgetary clearance policies in its effort to identify "bypass agencies" that can directly submit budget materials, legislative proposals, reports or testimony to Congress without first getting White House clearance.

The Office of Management and Budget redacted the documents when they released them to Public Citizen, arguing that the documents are "predominantly internal" and thus exempt from disclosure.

The district court allowed the government to withhold the redacted portions, but the D.C. Circuit reversed in a 2-1 decision, saying the documents don't fall under a FOIA exemption for internal material. But the majority said the district court should reconsider whether certain portions warrant continued redaction under an exemption for "predecisional and deliberative" material.

The circuit court also struck down the government's argument that it could withhold the documents because they concern other government agencies, not the public at large.

"[T]he documents at issue here lie at the core of what FOIA seeks to expose to public scrutiny," Judge David Tatel wrote. "They explain how a powerful agency performing a central role in the functioning of the federal government carries out its responsibilities and interacts with other government agencies. As we have explained, 'the strong policy of the FOIA [is] that the public is entitled to know what its government is doing and why,'" Tatel wrote, quoting the court's 1980 decision in Coastal States Gas Corp. v. DOE.

In a partial dissent, Senior Judge Stephen Williams said the lower court should reconsider whether disclosing the documents risks circumventing the law, in which case the office should be able to protect them.

Releasing the material might interfere with the president's ability to "corral the government's far-flung agencies," Williams wrote.

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