Open government and accountability organizations submitted comments yesterday on the proposal to amend the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) regulations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The letter expresses concerns that certain provisions of the proposed regulations could hinder the FOIA process, and provides recommendations on how the new provisions can go further to ensure greater access to public interest information.
The letter notes our appreciation for the efforts by the DHS to update and streamline the language of several of its FOIA procedural provisions, and to incorporate changes brought about by the amendments to the FOIA under the OPEN Government Act of 2007. Nonetheless, the comments emphasize the need to ensure that the DHS FOIA regulations do more to uphold requesters’ rights under the FOIA statute, and conform with the Attorney General’s guidance on the presumption of openness.
The DHS FOIA regulations also cover the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Office of Government Services (OGIS) recently released an assessment on the FEMA’s FOIA performance, which found persistent problems, including a lack of FOIA knowledge and training among FEMA staff, resulting in an inefficient process and significant backlog of requests. The assessment also noted a broad “lack of knowledge” on the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines, specifically on conducting an analysis of the harm that would be caused if information is released that might otherwise be withheld under an exemption.
The letter submitted yesterday recommends that the DHS FOIA regulations include a specific provision to conform with the Attorney General’s guidance on the presumption of openness, in accord with the model FOIA regulations produced by civil society experts in July 2014.
The full letter with comments is available here.
The following organizations joined the letter:
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Campaign for Accountability
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics
Government Accountability Project
National Security Archive
National Security Counselors
The Niskanen Center
Project On Government Oversight