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In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Partners Push Back Against DOD Effort to Keep Camp LeJeune Water Contamination Info Secret
II. OpenTheGov Takes a Look at FOIA's Strengths and Weaknesses
III. New Social Media Fellow Joins @OpenTheGov
The Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) have launched a joint campaign to help defend Robert MacLean, a former Federal Air Marshal who warned Congress that, because the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had blown its budget on failed buddy system contracts, he and other Federal Air Marshals were going to be removed from cross country flights, during a terrorist red-alert. Three years after MacLean blew the whistle, TSA retroactively marked his disclosure as “Sensitive Security Information” (SSI) and fired him for violating agency regulations by releasing it. The government board that was supposed to protect him from retaliation sided with TSA.
Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), plan to submit a friend of the court brief in defense of MacLean. Ask your Representative to join them today.
The Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News published an article on Sunday that highlights how a long-awaited government report on lung cancer in miners is being further delayed by industry and congressional insistence on seeing study data and documents before the public does. The article was also published by the New York Times.
Understanding Government, a non-profit foundation dedicated to improving government effectiveness by deepening public knowledge about the executive branch of government, is building a new platform designed to help people all over the country find out what the federal government is doing where they live. The platform, gimby (government in my backyard), will provide new tools for users to engage with federal agencies and judge executive branch performance. Learn more about the effort here.
Recently, OpenTheGovernment.org, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and several partners joined to press the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to come clean about water contamination at the U.S. Marine Corps base, Camp Lejeune—where Marines, civilians, and their families were poisoned by the water they used and drank, but have yet to see justice after years of secrecy. Their plight was recently featured in the Academy Awards short-listed film, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, which documents the catastrophic effects of the contamination and resulting cover-up.
The letters refer to the Department of Navy's successful use of highly questionable legal justification to pressure the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to heavily redact a report about the contamination before releasing it to the public. Interestingly, the Navy made no reference to a provision recently signed into law that requires the Secretary of Defense to weigh the public interest in releasing critical infrastructure security information. We urge all parties to make public the unredacted report and relevant underlying information to the fullest extent required or permitted under law as soon as possible.
DOD appears to be ramping up its efforts to convince other agencies to keep DOD's dirty secrets. According to investigative work by POGO, the Navy has begun stamping "For Official Use Only" on Camp Lejeune water contamination-related documents. "For Official Use Only" is one of the many confusing and meaningless markings the Obama Administration did away with in the Executive Order on Controlled Unclassified Information. As Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, explained, "'For Official Use Only' is a marking that has no legitimacy, as there is no statute authorizing it, or authorizing a regulation." She continued, "When agencies such as the Department of Defense use it to bully or intimidate others into withholding information, it is not binding on anyone — including any other government entity.”
Tomorrow the Index on Censorship will publish an article authored by Amy Bennett, the coalition's assistant director, that provides an overview of some of the US Freedom of Information Act's (FOIA) strengths and weaknesses. The article takes a critical look at the law's structure and how long delays in response and a lack of transparency about what the government is doing with a request once it is submitted lead to a system that doesn’t work for a lot of people. The piece also includes a review of how Congress amended FOIA in 2007 to create the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) to fill the dual role as a mediator in FOIA disputes between requesters and the government. OGIS could reduce costs by, among other things, keeping cases out of the court system and helping make sure Congress and the Administration are more aware of what problems in the FOIA system need immediate attention. However, in order to be successful, however, OGIS needs additional authority.
OpenTheGovernment.org is pleased to welcome our new Social Media Fellow, Abby Paulson, to our team. Abby will be working to energize the coalition's use of social media to keep all of our partners connected, and help lead people to the latest news, reports, and events about government openness and secrecy. Look for her tweeting from the @OpenTheGov handle, where she'll be sharing the news of the day, highlighting our partners' work, letting people know about upcoming events, participating in discussions and more. She will also be managing the coalition's facebook page.