A FOIA Win: Interior’s final rule drops changes that would have stifled public requests

The Department of Interior published its final Freedom of Information Act regulations, with significant changes from proposed revisions first issued in December 2018. The changes address concerns of public interest groups that urged the agency to remove harmful secrecy provisions from its initial proposal.

The final rule comes after Interior’s proposed rule changes drew widespread criticism from civil society organizations, spurring a bipartisan and bicameral congressional inquiry initiated by the late Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Representative Elijah Cummings.

The offices of Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas), in tandem with the open government community, engaged with Interior in reshaping its final rule to prioritize transparency and openness. In a bipartisan joint letter, the senators acknowledged the agency’s willingness to address the concerns raised by Congress and civil society groups.

In response to these developments, Lisa Rosenberg, executive director of Open The Government, stated:

“The changes in Interior’s final rule is the result of bipartisan FOIA champions in Congress working closely with civil society organizations to counter efforts to stifle FOIA. In its original form, the proposed rule would have burdened FOIA requesters with unreasonable requirements and high fees while permitting Interior officials to unlawfully limit disclosures.

By removing proposed revisions that were incompatible with FOIA from the final rule, Interior has taken a small step towards rolling back the secrecy and rampant corruption that has plagued the agency in recent years. For it to be truly effective Interior must commit to adhering to its FOIA policy going forward.”