Coalition Calls on Congress to Oppose Defense Department’s FOIA Exemption Carve-Out

Exemption Could Lead to Shielding Information about Sexual Assault Complaints, Contractor Oversight, and Interrogation and Treatment of Prisoners

WASHINGTON — In a letter sent to Congress on Monday, Open The Government called on lawmakers to oppose a Pentagon proposal that would add a new secrecy provision to the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The provision attempts to create a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) carve-out for certain records, that, if enacted, could shield information about the military’s handling of sexual assault complaints, its oversight of contractors, and its interrogation and treatment of prisoners.  Congress should use its oversight responsibilities to stop this latest attempt by the Pentagon to exempt itself from public scrutiny and to undermine the people’s right to know.

“In a time of growing concern over secrecy within the military and intelligence agencies, we cannot give the Pentagon more authority to operate in the shadows,” said Lisa Rosenberg, Executive Director of Open The Government. “Over the last four years, Congress has rightly rejected the Pentagon’s proposal to include harmful FOIA exemptions in the NDAA. We are again calling on open government champions to prevent the Pentagon from denying the public access to important information.”

The DoD’s proposal to exempt from disclosure “information on military tactics, techniques, and procedures, and of military rules of engagement,” would create a problematic carve-out to the FOIA that could be used to hide important information on matters of compelling public interest, as well as potentially put troops at risk. Today’s letter warns that greater secrecy relating to completed military operations, for example, could harm members of the military; as demonstrated by news reports showing that service members’ health care was compromised by the military’s failure to acknowledge their exposure to chemical weapons in Iraq.

The letter also stresses that any amendment to the FOIA, especially an amendment of this scope, should be approved by committees with jurisdiction over the FOIA and FOIA-related issues. FOIA-related legislation needs careful consideration, including public hearings, to ensure that the bill promotes openness and accountability, allowing the government to withhold only information that truly requires protection.

Open The Government is an inclusive, nonpartisan coalition that works to strengthen our democracy and empower the public by advancing policies that create a more open, accountable, and responsive government.

Read the coalition letter here and a OTG’s 1-page memo on the FOIA proposal here.