Policy and News Updates for May 4, 2005

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Policy Updates


[new] 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.
Status: The Defense Department sent the proposed authorization bill for Fiscal Year 2006 to Congress April 7.
Source: Secrecy News

[updated] Faster FOIA
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 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, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) added as a cosponsor April 26. H.R. 1620 referred to the Committee on Government Reform, four cosponsors added.
Source: Text of S. 589; CBO cost estimate

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 six 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] 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). The House and Senate Judiciary Committees have been holding a number of hearings on oversight of the Patriot Act, and will continue to do so.
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 18 cosponsors.
Source: Craig press release; SAFE Act press conference; Text of S. 737
Action: Sign the Campaign for Reader Privacy petition and tell Congress to Support Legislation to Fix The Patriot Act

[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. A coalition of national security whistleblowers met with key congressional staff April 28 to discuss the need for better protections, and Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) stated his intention 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.
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.
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.

The Resource Center at OpenTheGovernment.org provides a wealth of information for right-to-know advocates. Here you will find information to help you learn about the RTK issues, see what others have done, and access tools to help you become an RTK advocate. Four main sections comprise the Resource Center — Policy, Strategy, Library and Connect.


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:

  • Rick Blum discusses how the administration kept more secrets last year while the rate of declassification dropped.
  • In an editorial originally published in the Orlando Sentinel, Myriam Marquez talks about secrecy as an impediment to government accountability.


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.

Pataki signs law strengthening Freedom of Information Law
[Associated Press via Newsday May 3]

National Security Whistleblowers Urge Better Protections
[OMB Watcher May 2]

Ohio Bill To Privatize Government Information, Services
[OMB Watcher May 2]

Journalists Teach Communities to Access Government Information
[OMB Watcher May 2]

Senators Question FISA Classification Policy
[Secrecy News May 2]

Declassification Board: Named but Unfunded
[Washington Post May 2]

House Committee Holds First Public NARA Appropriations Hearing in Years
[NCH Washington Update April 29]

Bills would bar access to data
[News & Observer April 28]

Return of the Fallen: Pentagon Releases Hundreds More War Casualty Homecoming Images
[National Security Archive April 28]

Panel Questions Patriot Act Uses
[Washington Post April 28]

Global Terrorism Statistics Released
[Washington Post April 28]

Where does Bush stand on government secrecy?
[By Pete Weitzel via Nieman Watchdog April 26]

Homeland security-money debate: Secrecy vs. accountability
[Associated Press via First Amendment Center April 26]

DIA Seeks FOIA Exemption for Operational Files
[Secrecy News April 26]

Public Interest Declass Board Stalls
[Secrecy News April 26]

Proponent of open government
[FCW.com April 25]

In war’s name, public loses information
[Boston Globe April 24]

Threat to Public Grows With State Secrecy, Civil Libertarians Argue
[The NewStandard April 22]

Double Trouble for Halliburton
[Inter Press Service April 21]

Air Marshal Sues Homeland Security Chief
[Associated Press via Yahoo! April 21]

Court Closes Hearing on Sibel Edmonds Case
[Secrecy News April 21]

BLM Web Site Goes Dark (Again)
[SEJ WatchDog April 20]

Secrecy Issue Snags Johnson EPA Nomination
[SEJ WatchDog April 20]

AP sues U.S. to Get Guantanamo Documents
[Associated Press via ABC News April 19]

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