Today, more than 30 organizations committed to government openness and accountability are calling for the immediate removal of three exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from the Senate National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2017 (S. 2943). The FOIA exemptions would severely undermine the FOIA by creating an unnecessary secrecy provision at odds with FOIA’s goal of transparency and a carve-out to the FOIA for the Pentagon.
The letter calls for the passage of amendments introduced by Senator Leahy and Senator Grassley to strike the FOIA exemptions from the Senate NDAA, and highlights the most troubling provisions (Sections 1054 and 1055), which were included at the request of the Department of Defense (DoD). The proposed exemption in Section 1054 would exempt “information on military tactics, techniques and procedures,” from the FOIA, and the DoD’s proposed language in this section could be used to conceal information about the military’s interrogation and treatment of prisoners, handling of sexual assault complaints, oversight of contractors, and other matters of compelling public interest. Section 1055 (b) would exempt from disclosure information held by State and local governments related to critical infrastructure security.
The letter emphasizes that any amendment to the FOIA, especially amendments of this scope, should be referred to Committees with jurisdiction over the FOIA and FOIA-related issues, in this instance, the Senate Judiciary Committee. FOIA-related legislation needs the careful consideration of those Committees, including public hearings; such care is necessary to ensure that the bill promotes transparency and public accountability while allowing the government to withhold information which truly requires protection.
“The DoD’s proposed FOIA exemptions are unnecessary and present a threat to the integrity of the FOIA,” according to Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org. “With less than a month to go until the 50th anniversary celebration of the FOIA, we should not allow the Executive Branch to undermine the hard work of the FOIA champions in Congress to pass comprehensive FOIA reforms by harmful carve-outs that clearly go against FOIA’s originally intended purpose.”
Read the letter here.