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Watchdog Group Sues DOL Over Fiduciary Rule Documents

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American Oversight, a watchdog group, is suing the Labor Department for not responding to its Freedom of Information Act request to release “relevant documents” about Labor’s fiduciary rule.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to force Labor to release records related to the department’s ongoing efforts to “undo” the fiduciary rule as well as the overtime pay rule.

These two Obama-era regulations were put in place “to expand the number of workers eligible for overtime pay, and protect investors, respectively,” according to the group, which says its mission is to expose unethical conduct in the Trump administration.

Labor’s “attempts to roll back the overtime and fiduciary rules are yet additional examples of how the Trump administration has sided with well-connected businesses over the working Americans whose interests the president claims to represent,” said American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers, in a statement. “The public has a right to know why the Trump administration believes 4 million Americans should work for free, and why it’s OK for investment professionals to act in their own financial interests instead of their clients’.”

American Oversight, Evers continued, “is suing to find out what’s been going on behind closed doors.”

Evers told ThinkAdvisor in separate comments that “it’s especially troubling that the fiduciary rule decision seemed like a done deal from the beginning, and it makes transparency even more critical. If [Labor] Secretary Acosta and the Trump administration are going to roll back basic protections for Americans trying to save for retirement, the public has a right to know if that decision was preordained or driven by special interests.”

Evers formerly served as senior counsel in the State Department for oversight and transparency matters and has been a litigator at Williams & Connolly LLP. The watchdog group’s goal is to rely on FOIA and other public records laws to do “the job that Congress refuses to do, exposing unethical conduct throughout this administration and demanding investigations.”

Under FOIA, the watchdog group requested such information from the Labor Deparment as: All meeting agendas; lists of attendees; materials distributed; emails and copies of other correspondence for any meetings held pertaining to the development, implementation, consideration, evaluation, reconsideration or re-evaluation of the Conflict of Interest Rule as well as re-evaluation of the rule.

American Oversight submitted FOIA requests to DOL on July 21, requesting communications and documents regarding proposed changes to the two rules.

The complaint states that DOL “has not made determinations as to American Oversight’s FOIA requests …, notwithstanding the obligation of the agency under FOIA to respond within 20 working days,” the time period required by law.

American Oversight “has constructively exhausted its administrative remedies and seeks immediate judicial review,” the complaint states.

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