Quick FOIA quiz: Is the White House subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?
Yes. And no.
It depends on the function of a particular White House office.
Offices within the Executive Office of the President that “wield … substantial authority independent of the President” are subject to FOIA, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled.
Five White House offices generally exercise such authority, are considered agencies under FOIA and accept FOIA requests (included are links to their FOIA contact pages):
- Office of Management and Budget http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/foia_default/
- Office of Science and Technology Policy http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/library/foia
- Office of the National Drug Control Policy http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/freedom-of-information-act-requests
- Council on Environmental Quality http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/foia/
- Office of the U.S. Trade Representative http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/reading-room/freedom-information-act-foia
The Office of the President, including the “President’s immediate personal staff or units in the Executive Office whose sole function is to advise and assist the President,” are not subject to FOIA, courts have ruled.
White House offices found not to be agencies subject to FOIA are the Office of Counsel to the President, the Executive Residence staff, the National Security Council, the National Energy Policy Development Group, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Vice President and his staff, and the former Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief.
(Read more in the Procedural Requirements chapter of the U.S. Department of Justice Guide to FOIA.)
So before you dash off a FOIA request to the White House, you may wish to think about which office within the White House likely has the records you seek and whether that office is considered an agency for the purposes of FOIA.