A notice the Obama administration placed in the Federal Register earlier this month seemed to confirm once and for all what many transparency advocates have treated as a given for years: The White House is beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.
Well, not so fast.
The formal notice, awkwardly made public as many transparency advocates were celebrating Sunshine Week, officially withdrew long-dormant regulations that once created procedures for FOIA requests to part of the White House known as the Office of Administration. The George W. Bush White House actually stopped processing such requests about a decade ago. (They sat on one of mine for several years before sending a short letter saying they had no intention of fulfilling it.)
The glimmer of hope for FOIA backers involves not the relatively mundane Office of Administration, but the much more interesting National Security Council. It processed FOIA requests for a time, but was declared off limits by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1996.
A City University of New York legal clinic filed a FOIA lawsuit in 2013 challenging the rationale of that ruling: that the NSC is only an advisory body and doesn't make decisions. The suit was tossed out by a federal judge in Brooklyn, but an appeal pending at the 2nd Circuit has gotten a boost from an unexpected source: the so-called torture report the Senate Intelligence Commitee released last December blasting the CIA's detention and interrogation program for terror suspects.