Congressman fights Geithner on transparency, introduces new FOIA-reform bill

Ohio Republican Rep. Michael Turner is planning to introduce new legislation on Wednesday to reform the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by removing exemptions in the law that have allowed the Obama administration to withhold documents and information related to the auto and financial bailouts.

As currently written, FOIA law leaves a number of loopholes allowing the Obama administration to deny taxpayers access to information related to how their money was used during the bailouts. Turner’s bill would close the loopholes, effectively forcing the administration to release documents it has been withholding from the public about what happened during the bailouts.

Turner has led a charge in Congress to get to the bottom of what happened to the pensions of approximately 20,000 non-union private sector workers from Delphi, a General Motors company. During the bailout, the Department of Treasury eliminated those workers’ pensions while topping off the pensions of union workers. Turner has alleged the decisions were politically motivated for several reasons, including the fact that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner filled multiple roles in the process: Geithner played the part of Treasury secretary, co-chair of President Barack Obama’s Auto Task Force and board member of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) — an independent U.S. government agency created to monitor pension payments and ensure payouts promised by failed companies.

Turner told The Daily Caller that the PBGC and the Treasury Department have cited “FOIA Exemption 5 – ‘the deliberative process’ privilege” in denying the American people access to information about the bailout.

“This exempts intra-agency memoranda containing pre-decisional recommendations on agency policy,” Turner told TheDC. “Remember, both Treasury and the PBGC have said that Treasury played ‘no role’ in the PBGC decision-making. Yet, Treasury has moved to quash subpoenas for communications between the two government entities based on this ground.”

“The question arises then: How can Treasury communications with the PBGC have ‘compris[ed] part of the process by which agency policies and decisions are created, given the repeated assertions that Treasury played no role in the decision-making process?,” Turner stated. “Similarly, Treasury has refused to produce documents related to GM investments in Delphi. Yet, Treasury has always said that these were GM decisions, so no ‘agency’ decision could be implicated.”

Turner told TheDC his bill “would update the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to provide taxpayers with access to information and records relevant to any federal government bailout.”

“For example, under the RESTORE FOIA Act, agencies administering and carrying out the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) would be denied from invoking the FOIA exemptions,” Turner said. “This is the very access that groups of Americans such as the Delphi Salaried Retirees have been denied.”