Private Think Tank Sues the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Over Freedom of Information

The law says that requests for information must ordinarily be honored by giving the requested information. Back in 2008 when he was still masquerading as a Constitutional lawyer, Barack Obama made a big deal about transparency.

But President Obama is no longer running for office and the problem with the Freedom of Information Act is that most officials don’t fear violating it. They know nothing will happen to them.

That is why the Competitive Enterprise Institute is suing the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Under Director John Holdren the OSTP has repeatedly refused their FOIA requests.

CEI’s Chris Horner asked OSTP to produce work-related emails that OSTP’s Director, John Holdren, stored in an email account at his former employer, the environmental-pressure group Woods Hole Research Center. OSTP has resisted producing them. (The use of such non-official accounts for agency business frustrates federal open-government laws, and undermines government accountability, since such accounts are generally not searched in response to FOIA or congressional oversight requests seeking work-related communications or agency records. Moreover, the use of email accounts at a former employer that lobbies the federal government gives such pressure groups direct access to and control over public records, including highly sensitive information.)

What is ironic about this is that OSTP’s Director, soon after taking office, lectured OSTP employees about not conducting official business using private email accounts, and about the need to forward all work-related communications to their agency email account in order to comply with federal record-keeping laws.

The OSTP wants us all to trust all its decisions and utterances as solely motivated by personal disinterest and scientific research into the public good. But to maintain that fiction the organization cannot let the public view the decision-making or planning process. If it did so (one can conjecture) it would become obvious that the OSTP is simply pushing an ideology or pursuing private business interests or both.

According to the CEI, the OSTP needs some accountability.

Meanwhile, OSTP has thumbed its nose at CEI’s request under the Information Quality Act that it correct OSTP Director John Holdren’s notoriously false claimcriticized or disagreed with byclimate scientiststhat global warming is leading to more severe cold weather. As of the time this blog post was published, OSTP’s “Information Quality Guidelines” website continued to falsely claim that “OSTP has received no information quality correction requests. Any future requests will be posted on this page.” It so claims even though CEI had submitted its most recent information quality request about a month ago (emailing it on April 13, and faxing it on April 14), and that same week, discussed that request by phone with an OSTP employee, who confirmed receipt of CEI’s request, and stated that it would be posted on OSTP’s web site.

OSTP made this false claim on its web site even though it was blatantly wrong at the time it was made: OSTP has received not one, but two CEI data quality correction requests, including a highly-publicized 2003 request that OSTP was sued over and resulted in a correction of OSTP’s earlier climate change claims. 

Is there a chance that suing OSTP might work? I hope so but I am doubtful.