Coalition Fights Back Provision That Could Cut Off Public Access to Health and Safety Information

Over the past few weeks, and several of our coalition partners have been pushing Congress to strike or substantially tighten provisions in the House and Senate's respective Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reauthorizations bills that could restrict public access to a wide-range of public health and safety information. As originally drafted in Section 812 of HR 5651 and Section 708 of S.3187, the provisions allow the FDA to deny the public access under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to information relating to drugs obtained from a federal, state, local, or foreign government agency, if the agency has requested that the information be kept confidential.

Thanks to hard work by Senator Leahy, the Senate approved an amendment that limits the scope of information the FDA can withhold to information voluntarily provided by foreign governments, requires that the request to keep the information confidential be in writing, and, unless otherwise agreed upon, specifies a time frame after which the information will no longer be treated as confidential. Senator Leahy's amendment also preserves the ability of Congress to access the information. [Read more about the Senate bill provision and the Leahy amendment here.

Today the coalition is releasing a similar letter opposing Section 812 of HR 5651 to the bill's sponsors. The letter, which is signed by more than 20 organizations, explains concerns raised by the provision, and outlines Senator Leahy's amendment. Please stay tuned for news as the House moves to vote on its version, and as the House and Senate begin to reconcile their versions.

We learned about the provisions with the help of Scout, a legislative language search tool built by the the Sunlight Foundation (see more here). You can use Scout to set up email alerts for key phrases or follow a particular bill. It covers Congress, regulations across the whole executive branch, and legislation in all 50 states.