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CEI v. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 6:47
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(Before It's News)

 

In October 2013, CEI filed a FOIA request for policy emails that John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), kept on his private email account at his former employer, the environmental-pressure group Woods Hole Research Center. OSTP turned down the request, claiming that Holdren’s private account was outside its control and therefore wasn’t subject to FOIA.

CEI filed a lawsuit in May 2014 to force OSTP to produce the emails as the use of non-official accounts for agency business frustrates federal open-government laws, undermines government accountability, and evades congressional oversight efforts.

In a March 3, 2015 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler upheld the agency’s position. She ruled that FOIA applied only to agency records controlled by the agency, and that Holdren’s private email account was off-limits. CEI appealed this decision arguing that personal email accounts of the White House top science advisor, John Holdren, should not be off-limits from the Freedom of Information Act. 

On August 10, 2015, CEI filed its opening brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In the brief, CEI argues that FOIA applies to the work-related records of agency employees regardless of where they are stored, and that agencies routinely instruct their staff to preserve any such documents that they have on their personal email accounts. OSTP staff, perhaps, were reluctant to challenge their director’s private email practices, but that in no way makes the policy legal. Given the growing scandals over other top officials’ private emails, a reversal of the lower court’s ruling is essential to putting teeth into FOIA, especially in light of President Obama’s claim that his administration is the most transparent in history.

On July 5 2016, the DC Circuit court ruled that agency records including “departmental emails on an account in another domain” must be searched or produced in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. This was a victory for CEI as the DC Circuit overturned a district court ruling and remanded that case back to the district court for further proceedings.

Note: CEI has filed another lawsuit against the OSTP over Holdren’s claims in a video about the polar vortex released in January 2014. View the lawsuit here.

Docket Number: 
No 14-765, No. 15-5128
Case Status: 
Court Level: 
Proceedings, Orders, and Opinions Timeline: 
Date: 
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Title: 
Original FOIA Request

Date: 
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Title: 
Original FOIA Request Appeal

Date: 
Monday, May 5, 2014
Title: 
COMPLAINT Against OSTP before U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Date: 
Monday, August 10, 2015
Title: 
Joint Appendix

Date: 
Monday, August 10, 2015
Title: 
Opening BRIEF in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Date: 
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Title: 
RULING of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Date: 
Friday, July 11, 2014
Title: 
MOTION to Dismiss of OSTP

Date: 
Monday, July 28, 2014
Title: 
OPPOSITION – CEI Memo Opposing OSTP’s Motion to Dismiss

Date: 
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Title: 
OPINION Reversing Dismissal of Appeals Court Decision

Date: 
Monday, October 17, 2016
Title: 
MOTION to Compel Preservation of Private Emails

Date: 
Monday, October 17, 2016
Title: 
ORDER on Motion to Compel Preservation

News Releases : 
Hidden Government Emails at the Epicenter of FOIA Lawsuit
CEI Files Lawsuit Against the Administration Over Documents Withheld from FOIA Request
CEI Court Victory has Implications for Agency Emails
Press Highlights: 
A Conservative Think Tank Wants The White House Science Czar’s Private Emails
Related Blog Posts: 
CEI Files Lawsuit against Office of Science and Technology Policy
Date: 
Tuesday, July 5, 2016

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