Policy and News Updates for January 23, 2007

Policy Updates

[new] Declassification Board invites public comments
On January 19, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) met for its 11th public meeting, the first in a series of meetings to invite suggestions from the public on agency declassification. The first ten meetings focused on the declassification programs at major agencies. At this meeting, the panel heard comments and suggestions from Mark Zaid (litigator and executive director of the James Madison Project), Meredith Fuchs (General Counsel to the National Security Archive), and Scott Armstrong (executive director of the Information Trust). Read a summary of the meeting here…

[new] National Archives agreement causes concern
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has entered into an agreement with iArchives, Inc. (which owns the website Footnote, where the records will be housed) to digitize selected historic records. Read an analysis of the agreement here…

[new] Congress addresses ethics and transparency
As part of a broad ethics overhaul, the Senate voted 96 to 2 on January 19 to pass a bill which includes provisions to enhance Congressional transparency. The Senate bill would force lawmakers to file quarterly lobbyist reports; require all bills and joint resolutions to have a list of earmarks containing the sponsor, cost, purpose, and whether the sponsor or an immediate family member will benefit from the earmark; force the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate to create searchable online databases of Member’s travel gift reports by the beginning of 2008; and require all committees and subcommittees to post a video, audio, or printed transcript of meetings on their public website within 14 days. The bill would also end the practice of anonymous "holds" that senators can use to block or delay legislation or nominees, a provision written by Finance ranking member Charles Grassley [R-IA] and Sen. Ron Wyden [D-OR]. The provision would require senators placing a hold on a bill to make their position public in the Congressional Record within three days.

On January 4 and 5, the House approved new rules to strengthen an earmark disclosure rule and increase transparency. The earmark provision which requires that appropriations, authorizations, and tax bills identify the sponsors of earmarks they contain and list earmark sponsors now must provide a justification for the earmark they have requested. The earmark disclosure lists will be available to the public electronically through committee publications or in the Congressional Record. The new rules prohibit House members and their staff from accepting meals and gifts from lobbyists, and enforces new limits on congressional travel.
Sources: S.1 [THOMAS]; H. Res. 6 [House Rules]; What’s in the Ethics Bill? [Sunlight Foundation blog]; House Imposes New Ethics Rules [OMB Watcher 1.9.07]; Wyden And Grassley Closer To Ending Secret Senate Holds [National Journal 1.22.07 – subscription required]

[new] DHS provisions lead to more secrecy
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acted in December to cover up government chemical safety lapses. First, DHS issued a proposed rule on Dec. 15, 2006 to tighten security around shipments of hazardous materials via rail. According to the Society of Environmental Journalist’s (SEJ) WatchDog TipSheet, "The proposed rule would make secret many kinds of information – most visible to the naked eye in any railyard." Later in December, DHS proposed regulations implementing the chemical security regulations passed by Congress [correction: passed as part of the FY 2007 DHS appropriations bill (Pub.L.No 109-295. The relevant provisions are in Section 550)]. According to the TipSheet, "The proposed regulations would prohibit disclosure of vulnerability analyses and security plans for chemical facilities, along with a wide range of other information – including practically anything the Homeland Security Secretary wanted to stamp secret." The statute requires that "information developed under this section, including vulnerability assessments, site security plans, and other security related information, records, and documents shall be given protections from public disclosure…" To implement the nondisclosure provisions in the statute, DHS created a new category of sensitive information called Chemical Security Vulnerability Information (CVI).
Status: The deadline for comments on the first proposal is February 20, 2007. The deadline for comments on the second proposal is February 7, 2007.
Sources: WatchDog TipSheet [SEJ 1.10.07]; DHS Release of Dec. 15, 2006; DHS Release of Dec. 22, 2006; S. 2145 Pub.L.No 109-295 [corrected]; "Proposed Rule: Rail Transportation Security," [Transportation Security Administration (DHS), Federal Register, Dec. 21, 2006, pages 76851-76888]; "Proposed Rule: Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards," [Department of Homeland Security, Federal Register, December 28, 2006, pages 78275-78332]

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