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When is an agency not an agency?

There can hardly be a more basic government-documents question than one that asks you to identify a government agency. But recently, politics, secrecy, and corruption have made it difficult to determine even what should be obvious and unambiguous.

The most visible case of confusion, of course, is that offered by Vice President Dick Cheney in his resistance of routine oversight of his office’s handling of classified information: He says that he need not disclose information to the National Archives Information Security Oversight Office because he is not part of the executive branch. (Agency Is Target in Cheney Fight on Secrecy Data, by Scott Shane, New York Times, June 22, 2007)

But this is not the only instance of confusing categorization and re-categorization of agencies. Two more than were in the press recently:

  • The Bush administration is arguing that the White House Office of Administration is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) because it is not an "agency" as defined under FOIA even though the White House Web site (as of August 22) listed the Office of Administration as one of six presidential entities subject to the open-records law. The Office of Administration responded to 65 FOIA requests last year and has its own FOIA officer. The Justice Department argues that past behavior is irrelevant. (White House Declares Office Off-Limits, by Dan Eggen, Washington Post, August 23, 2007; pA04)
  • A U.S. District Judge overturned a jury award in a suit brought by a former whistleblowing FBI agent against a company accused of filing fake invoices in Iraq saying that the plaintifs failed to prove that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-backed occupier of Iraq for 14 months, was part of the U.S. government. (Iraq Corruption Whistleblowers Face Penalties, The Associated Press, Aug 25, 2007)

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