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White House to Congress: Be More Transparent

White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks to reporters during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Earnest took questions about Islamic State militants. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) AP Photo/Evan Vucci

As a House committee held a hearing on transparency in the Obama administration, White House press secretary Josh Earnest faulted Congress for not being subject to the Freedom of Information Act — even though he isn’t advocating the White House be subject, either.

“In the last year, the administration processed 647,000 FOIA requests that we received from the public,” Earnest said Tuesday. “I would note that that is 647,000 more FOIA requests than were processed by the United States Congress. Those who are genuinely interested in advocating for transparency in government should advocate for Congress being subject to those transparency measures.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Earnest responded to questions regarding the government's response to the Ebola outbreak. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

FOIA is the law that requires most federal executive branch agencies to provide government documents to the public if an individual requests the information. The White House and Congress are not subject to the law. An agency has 20 business days to respond.

Open government advocates, some who testified at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, contend the administration is slow to produce records, if ever.

In fiscal year 2014, the federal government received 714,231 FOIA requests. The backlog of FOIA cases not processed in the legal time limit increased by 67 percent to a total of 159,741 backlogged cases, according to the committee.

“Hopefully the transparency advocates who are testifying before Congress today, we’ll urge them to do that,” Earnest said, regarding making Congress subject to FOIA.

After a reporter pointed out that the White House isn’t subject to FOIA, Earnest noted that it's subject to the Presidential Records Act "that does have a longer period of time before those records are released, but it does ensure that a much higher percentage of the work done here at the White House will be released to the National Archives and Records Administration."

Asked if he is then advocating for the White House be subject, Earnest responded: “What we want is some kind of transparency in Congress. They are the leading advocates for ensuring that the president and his administration live up to those requirements, and as I mentioned.”

Follow Fred Lucas (@FredLucasWH) on Twitter

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