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Public Citizen v. Secret Service

In this case, Public Citizen sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Secret Service for copies of visitor logs and other records documenting visitors to four agencies within the White House Complex that are subject to FOIA—the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

The Secret Service denied Public Citizen’s first request, which was for records from January 20, 2017, to April 15, 2017, by stating that the records are subject to the Presidential Records Act, rather than FOIA, and under exclusive legal custody and control of the White House. As Public Citizen noted in its administrative appeal of that denial, however, the D.C. Circuit held in 2013 that visitor logs to agencies such as OMB, OSTP, ONDCP, and CEQ are “agency records” subject to disclosure under FOIA and “plainly do not fall within the coverage of the Presidential Records Act.” Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Secret Service, 726 F.3d 208, 232-33 (D.C. Cir. 2013).

In its response to Public Citizen’s appeal, the Secret Service said that it did not have the requested records because it had transferred them to the White House Office of Records Management. The Secret Service also contended that it could not discern which records documented visits to OMB, OSTP, ONDCP, and CEQ.  The Secret Service did not respond to Public Citizen’s requests for records documenting visitors to the four agencies from April 16, 2017, to July 15, 2017.

On August 17, 2017, Public Citizen filed this case based on the Secret Service’s withholding of the visitor logs and its policy or practice of withholding such logs.  Public Citizen also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent the Secret Service from transferring or destroying visitor logs to the four agencies during the course of the litigation. The court ordered the Secret Service to maintain copies of the relevant records for the pendency of the lawsuit.

On February 13, 2018, Public Citizen and the Secret Service signed a settlement agreement.  Under the agreement, the Secret Service will transfer visitor logs to the White House Office of Records Management, which will sort them and send relevant records to OMB, OSTP, ONDCP, and CEQ.  Those four agencies will then process and post the records on their on-line reading rooms.