Policy and News Updates for May 20, 2005

Italics indicates new or updated news.
Email your tips and updates to info@openthegovernment.org

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] 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 22 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 House bill, H.R. 1815, contains the FOIA provisions in Section 901.
Status:H.R. 1815 was introduced and referred the House Committee on Armed Services on April 26, subcommittee markups held in closed session May 11 and 12. Bill forwarded to the full committee for a vote.
Source: Secrecy News; Text of H.R. 1815

[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 11 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. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) added as a cosponsor May 10.
Source: Text of S. 589; CBO cost estimate

[updated] Whistleblower Protection Legislation
Legislation to strengthen the Whistleblower Protection Act was reintroduced during the 109th Congress. The Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act is bipartisan legislation would ensure protection against reprisal for federal employees who bring government wrongdoing to light. It would require employee training on whistleblower rights, allow any court of appeals to hear a whistleblower case, and would cover any disclosure of waste, fraud, or abuse. S. 494 was introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) March 2, and Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) introduced H.R. 1317 on March 15. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) stated his intention April 28 to introduce legislation that would provide government whistleblowers similar protections to those in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a corporate accountability law that protects corporate whistleblowers. Markey did offer an amendment to the Homeland Security Authorization bill that contained whistleblower language, but it failed.
Status: H.R. 1317 referred to the Committee on Government Reform. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs favorably reported out S. 494 on April 13. Full Markey legislation still in development.
Source: Akaka press release; Text of S. 494; Text of H.R. 1317; OMB Watcher article


**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.



News from Coalition Partners


Society of Environmental Journalists Conference. The Society of Environmental Journalists will hold its 15th annual conference at the University of Texas at Austin from September 28 to October 2, 2005. For details, visit www.sej.org.

Project On Government Oversight Report on Needed Changes to Protect National Security Whistleblowers. The Project On Government Oversight has outlined key policy steps to protect government employees who bring to light problems in our nation’s homeland security. See the POGO report, "Homepland and National Security Whistleblower Protections: The Unfinished Agenda."

Congratulations to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press for celebrating its 35th anniversary of protecting journalists and a free press.



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:

  • Mark Tapscott comments on the Justice Department’s stance on recouping legal fees under FOIA.
  • Rick Blum discusses how the administration kept more secrets last year while the rate of declassification dropped.


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.

Full Report on Overseas Bases Restored to Web
[Secrecy News May 20]

Under judge’s order, N.Y. agency agrees to stop consulting subjects of record searches
[Associated Press via Newsday May 19]

Watchdog group loses bid for Westar data
[Associated Press via First Amendment Center May 18]

Nevada open meeting bills move to Assembly floor
[Associated Press via Las Vegas Sun May 18]

Gregoire signs bill on public records
[The Olympian May 18]

Depository librarians face uncertain future
[Federal Computer Week May 18]

Resident-only records law ruled unconstitutional
[Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press May 17]

NOAA offers access to new radar data
[Federal Computer Week May 16]

House Hears Changes Needed to Improve Freedom of Information Act
[OMB Watcher May 16]

Texas Legislature Passes Open Government Training Legislation
[Government Technology May 16]

Details of record requests can be hard to come by
[Salt Lake Tribune May 15]

AP President Urges Media to Build Alliance
[Associated Press via Washington Post May 14]

Waxman Introduces Restore Open Government Act
[Secrecy News May 13]

Court drops case over government suing records requesters
[Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press May 12]

Open government advocates push for FOIA reform
[Cox News via Oxford Press May 12]

Congress Urged Not to Undermine FOIA
[Associated Press via San Francisco Chronicle May 11]

Court Tells EPA to Stop Tracking Solvent
[Washington Post May 11]

Government secrecy hits another record high
[Paul McMasters in News-Leader.com May 11]

D.C. Circuit sides with Cheney in energy-records suit
[Associated Press via First Amendment Center May 10]

Open-government advocates criticize Nevada measure
[Las Vegas Sun May 9]

CIA Discloses Its 1963 Budget
[Secrecy News May 9]

3 states move to improve open government
[Associated Press via First Amendment Center May 8]

Bush Administration Claims Presidential Privilege for LBJ Documents
[National Security Archive May 6]

Court won’t reinstate suit against FBI
[Associated Press via Washington Post May 6]

Tougher law on open meetings is signed
[Des Moines Register May 4]

Public Records Trimmed Under New Georgia Law
[Associated Press via WJXX May 4]

Past Updates?