Policy and News Updates for September 26, 2006

Policy Updates

[new] Plan to close EPA libraries causes concern
The Administration’s 2007 federal budget cuts $2 million dollars from the EPA library system, 30 percent of the total library system budget. The cuts officially start next year, but EPA has already closed one library and others are scheduled to close Oct. 1. The plan worries Ranking Members of the House Committees on Science, Energy & Commerce and Government Reform, who wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) this week, requesting that GAO look into the plan. Of particular concern is the potential lack of access to collections, especially as many documents have not been digitized.

Status: Assuming Congress will not reverse President Bush’s proposed budget reductions, EPA is moving forward on its plan to close libraries.

Sources: Ranking members’ letter to EPA [Democratic Caucus Committee on Science]; EPA FY 2007 Library Plan [EPA via PEER]; Press release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

[new] Limiting Sensitive Security Information
Section 525, language in the House version of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act (H.R. 5441), would help correct the misuse of the Sensitive Security Information (SSI) control marking. Section 525 would limit 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: Section 525 passed the House with bipartisan support on June 6. Sen. Gregg’s (R-NH) similar but less extensive amendment (SA 4579) passed by unanimous consent in July. H.R. 5441 is now in conference.

Sources: H.R. 5441; Sec 525 [FAS Project on Government Secrecy]; SA 4579 [Thomas]; >OpenTheGovernment.org sign on letter to Conferees; Resources related to TSA’s SSI category [POGO]

[updated] Judiciary Committee approves OPEN Govt Act
On September 21, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the OPEN Government Act (S. 394). Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the S. 394 in February 2005 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: S. 394 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 21. The House version (H.R. 867), introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), was referred to the House Committee on Government Reform in February 2005.
Sources: S. 394 [Thomas]; Read our analysis of the OPEN Government Act [OpenTheGovernment.org]
Action: Tell Congress to support the OPEN Government Act!

News from Coalition Partners and Others

New Freedom of Information Survey

Privacy International has released the Freedom of Information Around the World 2006 Global Survey of Access to Government Information Laws. The Survey provides a comprehensive review of Freedom of Information Laws and practices in nearly 70 countries around the world. The survey is available at the Privacy International website here.

Event: Protecting Privacy, Challenging Secrecy & Standing Up for the First Amendment
On Thursday, September 28, 2006, join the PEN American Center in hearing individuals “who have in one way or another come face to face with a government that increasingly intrudes into the private lives of its citizens while it hides its own actions behind a veil of secrecy.” At the National Press Club’s First Amendment Lounge: 529 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC at 12 p.m. Space is limited and reservations are required. Find out more here.