Policy and News Updates for March 23, 2005

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Policy Updates

[updated] Faster FOIA: Proposed Commission To Examine Delays Moves Faster Through Judiciary Committee

Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced another bill March 10 that would 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.

Status: Approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 17, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) added as co-sponsors.

Source: Text of S. 589
Action: ALA Alert: Call your Senators!

[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.
Status: The bill was introduced on Feb. 16 and a Judiciary Committee hearing was held March 15.
Source: OpenTheGovernment.org analysis; Text & Status of S. 394; Letter from Cornyn & Leahy seeking co-sponsors; Statement of Cornyn; Statement of Leahy
Action: Tell your representatives to support the OPEN Government Act!

[updated] Restore FOIA: Bill Would Fix ‘Critical Infrastructure’ Exemption
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT.) reintroduced the Restore FOIA Act (S. 622) March 15, which would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 so that provisions in the law to protect “Critical Infrastructure Information” would not undermine FOIA. Leahy introduced the widely-supported legislation in the 108th Congress, but it was never passed.
Status: Introduced March 15, referred to the Judiciary Committee.
Source: Text of S. 622

[new] Changes at the Office of Special Counsel

Whistleblower groups are questioning changes at the Office of Special Counsel, the office with chief responsibility for protecting whistleblowers from retaliation. The Project On Government Oversight, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Government Accountability Project want an investigation into whether the re-location of outspoken employees by the OSC Special Counsel is retaliatory.

Source: Project On Government Oversight: Whistleblower Staff Blow the Whistle On Special Counsel

Action: POGO Action Alert: Ask for an investigation!

[new] Watergate Worries: Scholars Push Binding Agreements as Nixon Library Pledges More Secret Tapes for the Public

Concerned that key historical documents related to Watergate might be destroyed, scholars called on Congress to halt the transfer of the Nixon administration’s records to the Nixon Library until better controls can be put in place. In response, the Nixon Library pledged to donate portions of tapes and files kept from the public through over twenty years of litigation, but made no mention of a possible legally binding agreement.

Source: National Security Archive; National Coalition for History; letters related to the document handover posted by the Nixon Library

[updated] Nuclear Agency Use of Secrecy May Face Investigation

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to the Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) asking for an investigation into how the agency is restricting public access to unclassified information. The letter noted many instances of the agency blocking public access to meetings, unclassified reports, and other information routinely used by public interest groups and community advocates. Markey also highlighted NRC’s recent rulemaking aimed at expanding its exemptions for Safeguards Information (SGI), which could hide almost any information relating to nuclear facilities’ emergency planning procedures and safety analyses, among others. Communities use this information to ensure it is being properly protected.

Status: Markey letter sent to NRC March 21. Comment period for SGI proposed rule open until March 28.

Source: Markey Press Release; Letter to NRC IG; Federal Register notice for proposed SGI rule

Action: Submit comments to NRC on its SGI proposed rule

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

OpenTheGovernment.org coalition partners form an unprecedented coalition of First Amendment advocates, good government groups, journalists, environmentalists, and organizations representing working men and women. The coalition works to stop the growth in government secrecy and advocates for greater public access to government information. Check out this list of organizations that are coalition partners and have signed onto the Statement of Values.

News from Coalition Partners

Campaign for Reader Privacy launched an easier-to-use website. Sponsors of the project include OpenTheGovernment.org partners — the PEN American Center, American Library Association and Association of American Publishers — along with the American Bookseller Association, the campaign seeks to protect libraries and booksellers from Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows government to secretly obtain records of the reading habits of Americans. Join the campaign.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center launched its new FOIA Notes to “bring attention to secrecy in the federal government.” FOIA Notes will highlight documents that shed light on current policy questions that EPIC obtained using the Freedom of Information Act. FOIA Notes will be published online as well as be available for download to mobile devices. Subscribe to FOIA Notes.

News Highlights

Looking for authors! The Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service distributes op-ed opinion pieces on any topic related to freedom of information. Pieces related in some way to the Freedom of Information Act are especially welcome. The op-eds may be published freely as long as the author is credited. To view the latest op-ed as well as all pieces in the series, go to Knight Ridder/Tribune. Pieces should be 700 words in length and sent as part of the email message (without attachments) to Ray Walker at rwalker@krtinfo.com and oped@krtinfo.com. Please also let us know if you submit a piece!

Recent pieces:

  • In an editorial originally published in the Orlando Sentinel, Myriam Marquez talks about secrecy as an impediment to government accountability.
  • Mark Tapscott discusses Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-TX) bill to fix FOIA.

Note: These op-eds reflect the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily represent the positions or viewpoints of the OpenTheGovernment.org coalition or its Partners.

Use of modified seed raises secrecy, safety concerns

[The Oregonian March 23]

Lawmaker slams NRC over access to information

[GovExec.com March 21]

Novel excuses multiply for shielding government data

[Associated Press via First Amendment Center March 21]

Access to public records not always freely given
[Des Moines Register March 20]

Cities, agencies seek right to sue

[News & Observer March 20]

FOIA requests hit record 4 million in ’04

[Associated Press via Kansas City Star March 18]

FOIA Requests to Air Force Lost, Delayed and Ignored

[National Security Archive March 18]

The Age of Missing Information

[Steven Aftergood for Slate March 17]

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