Policy and News Updates for December 16, 2005

Italics indicates new or updated news

Email your tips and updates to info@openthegovernment.org

Policy Updates

[new] President Bush issues new Executive Order on FOIA
The executive order would require agencies to name a Chief FOIA Officer, and to establish FOIA Requester Service Centers to help people find out the status of their requests. This executive order will not fix many of the problems with the current FOIA system that are addressed by Sens. Cornyn and Leahy’s Faster FOIA and OPEN Government Acts.

Status: Executive order issued on December 14
Sources: Executive Order from the White House; Cornyn and Leahy’s Open Gov’t Act and Faster FOIA; Bush Issues Order to Ease Access to Government Information [New York Times]; CJOG (1st item)

[updated] PATRIOT Act: Reauthorization vote delayed
On Friday, the Senate failed to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act so debate on reauthorization will continue. The final vote was 52-47. Majority Leader Frist (R-TN) blocked a proposed 3-month extension of the expiring PATRIOT provisions that would have allowed a more
informed debate. Because Sen. Frist changed his vote at the last minute, he can cut off the debate at any time by invoking cloture.
Earlier this week, the House passed a bill to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act on a vote of 251 to 174.

Status: The House passed its version of December 14. The Senate voted against reauthorization on December 16.

Sources: H.R. 3199; S. 1389; Bill of Rights Defense Committee summary;; Senate fails to reauthorize Patriot Act [CNN]; Details on the Senate vote

[updated] EPA dimming sunshine on chemical reporting
EPA decided to undermine the premier tool for notifying the public about toxic pollution, the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program. The changes, which would dramatically reduce the information available to the public, include moving from annual to every other year reporting, allowing companies to release ten times as much pollution before they are required to report, and permitting facilities to withhold information on low-level persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs).

Status: Public comments period was extended until Jan. 13.

Source: EPA’s proposed TRI rule (pdf); Fight to Save the Toxics Release Inventory Heats Up [OMB Watcher]; Toxics Release Inventory Resource Center

Action: Submit comments and tell EPA to abandon its plan to rollback TRI reporting [OMB Watch].

[updated] Proposed agency would be exempt from oversight laws
The proposed Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA) would be charged with developing drug technologies and vaccines to respond to natural outbreaks and bioterrorism. In an unprecedented move, BARDA would be exempt from Freedom of Information (FOI) laws and the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

Status: Introduced on October 17 and reported out of Committee on October 24.
Sources: S.1873; POGO’s blog; Secrecy Endangers Biodefense Effort [OMB Watcher]; Burr’s bioterror plan off course [Winston-Salem Journal]

News from Coalition Partners and Others

[new] The CQ Researcher publishes report on government secrecy
The December 2005 24- page backgrounder explains why secrecy and open government matters, current problems such as Abu Ghraib and censoring photos, and where to go for more on the subject. Download it from OpenTheGovernment.org (pdf).