Policy and News Updates for June 9, 2005

Italics indicates new or updated news
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Action Item — Tell Your FOIA Story!

OpenTheGovernment.org is collecting stories on the use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). If you have an experience using FOIA — anything from delayed responses to costly appeals — please share it with us. We will be compiling stories to show how the law is being used, and to further educate leaders about the need to improve the law. Please tell your story here.

Policy Updates

[new] FOIA Exemption Disclosure Bill
Congress would have to disclose when it puts information beyond the public’s reach under the Freedom of Information Act according to a new bill (S. 1181) introduced on June 7 by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). This is the third Cornyn-Leahy bill aimed at strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The bill is identical to section eight of the OPEN Government Act (S. 394) and Cornyn and Leahy hope to pass it as stand-alone legislation.

Status: Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Source: Sen. Cornyn statement; Sen. Leahy press release; Text of S. 1181

[new] Pay for Your Weather Forecasts?
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) introduced legislation that would force the National Weather Service to provide its routine weather forecasts only in an unintelligible, machine-readable format so Accuweather and other private companies can re-package and sell the NWS’s analyses. S. 786 was introduced April 14.
Status: Referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation April 14.
Source: Chicago Tribune article; Text of S. 786

[updated] Restore Open Government Act
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced the Restore Open Government Act, H.R. 2331, which would overturn the Ashcroft and Card Memos, require reporting on the use of “sensitive but unclassified” information restrictions, stop the executive branch from convening secret advisory groups like the energy task force, and limit the critical infrastructure information provisions within the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Introduced on May 12, the bill now has 24 cosponsors.
Status: Referred to the Committees on Government Reform and Homeland Security.
Source: Text of H.R. 2331; Waxman press release

[updated] Exemption Envy: Pentagon seeks new FOI Exemption

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency is seeking to avoid disclosing policy manuals and other “operational documents” under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The CIA received a narrowly-tailored FOIA exemption for its operations after much negotiation; other branches of the intelligence community have also sought broader secrecy exemptions. Congress rejected the agency’s attempt to get the same exemption in 2000. The Defense Department sent the proposed language to Congress April 7 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006. The FOIA provision was removed from the final House bill, H.R. 1815, but the Senate bill, S. 1042, contains the language in section 922.

Status:H.R. 1815 was passed by the House on May 25. S. 1042 was passed out of the Committee on Armed Services on May 12 and will now face a full vote.
Source: Secrecy News; Text of H.R. 1815;Text of S. 1042

[updated] OPEN Gov’t Act: Bipartisan Bill Strengthens Open Government
Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the OPEN Government Act (S. 394) to strengthen openness in the federal government. The bill forces agencies to pay legal costs in more cases when faced with a lawsuit over improperly withheld records and puts in place other measures to hold agencies more accountable for fulfilling public requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Cornyn expects a larger battle over the legislation, according to the Washington Post.
Status: The bill was introduced on Feb. 16 and a Judiciary Committee hearing was held March 15. The companion bill in the House, H.R. 867, now has 13 cosponsors.
Source: OpenTheGovernment.org analysis; Text & Status of S. 394; Letter from Cornyn & Leahy seeking cosponsors; Statement of Cornyn; Statement of Leahy
Action: Tell your representatives to support the OPEN Government Act!

[updated] Faster FOIA

Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced another bill March 10 to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Faster FOIA bill (S. 589) would create an advisory commission tasked with proposing ways to reduce delays in responding to FOIA requests. Remarkably, the bill already passed out of the Judiciary Committee on March 17. The Congressional Budget Office also released a cost estimate for the bill, putting the commission’s cost at $1 million. Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the House version of the Faster FOIA bill (H.R. 1620) April 13.

Status: S. 589 approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 17. H.R. 1620 referred to the Committee on Government Reform, Rep. Mark Green (R-WI) added as a cosponsor June 7.

Source: Text of S. 589; CBO cost estimate

[new] Patriot Act: Acting in secret, committee expands Patriot Act

The Senate Intelligence Committee passed a secret bill on June 7 to expand the Patriot Act, leaving unclear how the House and Senate will proceed given the judiciary committees in the House and Senate have primary jurisdiction on the issue.
Source: ACLU Statement

Action: Sign the Campaign for Reader Privacy petition and tell Congress to Support Legislation to Fix the Patriot Act

[updated] Patriot Act: SAFE Act

The Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act is a bipartisan bill that would amend the USA PATRIOT Act in order to protect civil liberties that have been violated by the Patriot Act. This includes amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and revising provisions governing search warrants authorized under the Patriot Act. A similar bill was introduced in the 108th Congress. Senate version (S. 737) introduced by Sens. Larry E. Craig (R-ID) and Richard J. Durbin (D-IL). House companion bill (H.R. 1526) was introduced by Rep. Butch Otter (R-ID).
Status: Both bills introduced April 6. S. 737 referred to Judiciary Committee and currently has 10 cosponsors. H.R. 1526 referred to the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee and now has 38 cosponsors.
Source: Craig press release; SAFE Act press conference; Text of S. 737; Text of H.R. 1526
Action: Sign the Campaign for Reader Privacy petition and tell Congress to Support Legislation to Fix The Patriot Act

**For other policies that OpenTheGovernment.org is watching, please visit our compendium.

In the Issues section of the OpenTheGovernment.org website, you can find background information on the four issues that the coalition focuses on — democracy, public trust and accountability, environmental health and safety, and national security. Learn some of the history of the issues, why they are necessary for an open government, and what are the related government policies.