Policy and News Updates for October 10, 2006

Policy Updates

[updated] Biodefense bill leans towards secrecy
The House passed a bill (H.R. 5533) on September 26 to create the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop drug technologies and vaccines to respond to natural outbreaks and bioterrorism. Language in the bill mandates that the Secretary of Health and Human Services withhold technical and scientific information that would “reveal vulnerabilities of existing medical or public health defenses” against biological threats. It establishes a five-year blackout on reviewing withholding decisions.
Status: The House passed H.R. 5533 on September 26. Sen. Burr (R-NC) may add a section on BARDA to his pandemic preparedness bill (S. 3678).

Sources: H.R. 5533; S. 3678; OpenTheGovernment.org joined 22 groups in a letter to key House members urging modifications to the public disclosure provisions.

[updated] Limiting Sensitive Security Information

Section 525, language in the House version of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act (H.R. 5441), helps correct the misuse of the Sensitive Security Information (SSI) control marking. Section 525 limits the overuse of the SSI designation, particularly by the Transportation Security Administration, while preserving authority to properly designate real sensitive information and keep it out of the hands of terrorists.

Status: The President signed the bill into law on October 4, including a modified version of Section 525.

Sources: H.R. 5441; Sec 525 [FAS Project on Government Secrecy];OpenTheGovernment.org sign on letter to Conferees; Resources related to TSA’s SSI category [POGO]

[updated] House subcommittee approves OPEN Govt Act

On September 27, the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability for approved the OPEN Government Act (H.R. 867). The OPEN Government Act puts in place measures to hold agencies more accountable for fulfilling public requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

Status: H.R. 867 awaits approval by the full committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved its version, S. 394, on September 21.

Sources: H.R. 867; S. 394[Thomas]; Read our analysis of the OPEN Government Act [OpenTheGovernment.org]

News from Coalition Partners

Are We Safer in the Dark? DVD Now Available
The DVD of our national conference, “Are We Safer in the Dark, A Sunshine Week National Dialogue On Open Government Secrecy,” (March 2006) is now available for purchase for a cost of $25 through the Special Libraries Association store. Read the press release here.

Draw the Curtain Back on Federal Spending
Today, Oct. 10, 2006 T 9:30 a.m. EST, OMB Watch launches its much anticipated online database allowing you to search, aggregate and analyze all federal spending, Fedspending.org