Barack Obama in FOIA drama

On his first full day in office – 21st January 2009 – President Obama issued a Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies about how they are to apply the US Freedom of Information Act.

Here’s an extract:


A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires

transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said

to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, the Freedom

of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through

transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound

national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the

heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in

the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a

clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.

The Government should not keep information confidential merely

because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure,

because errors and failures might be revealed, or because

of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never

be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of

Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed

to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive

branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit

of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of

the public.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure,

in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied

in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The

presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions

involving FOIA.

For the full document, see: