Policy and News Updates for September 7, 2004


Policy Updates


(New information is highlighted with [new] or [updated] in the title)


[new]Whistleblower Protection Legislation
The Senate is ready to vote on the "Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act" (S. 2628), which would be the first stand-alone whistleblower protection bill to be approved by the Senate Committee in ten years. This legislation would amend the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) to ensure protection against reprisal for federal employees who bring government wrongdoing to light. The House companion bill (H.R. 3281) has yet to leave committee, despite promises from the committee chairman that he would act.
Status: S.2628 is ready for Senate vote but H.R.3281 has not left the House Government Reform Committee.
Source: Government Accountability Project press release.
Action: Contact the Government Reform Committee.


[new]NIH Proposes Open Access Policy
A new proposal from the National Institutes of Health would require all published scientific articles based on taxpayer-funded research to be pubblicly available for free. Currently, scientific journals publish the studies, which can only be accessed by subscriptions or through an academic institution that has its own subscription.
Status: The NIH proposal is open for a 60-day comment period.
Source: Alliance for Taxpayer Access
Action: Send a letter to Congress.


[new]Satellite Imagery FOIA Exemption
A proposed Freedom of Information Act exemption, restricting public access to satellite images and related data will be considered this month in conference. The Senate already approved the measure, which would prohibit disclosure of any commercial satellite images or any products derived from the data. This broad exclusion would threaten significant amounts of unclassified data that journalists, public interest groups, scientist, and the public use routinely.
Status: After the Senate passed S. 2400, which contained the provision, the Senate incorporated S. 2400 in H.R. 4200 as an amendment. H.R. 4200 is currently in House-Senate conference.
Source: Secrecy News, Sept. 7, 2004.
Action: Ask Congress to drop the FOIA exemption.


Independent Classification Board
Legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress to create an Independent National Security Classification Board in the executive branch.
Status: S.2672 has been referred to the Committee on Intelligence. H.R.4855 was referred to the House Committee on Intelligence.
Action: Send a letter to Congress in support of a classification board!


Patriot Act: Reversing the Patriot Act
The Civil Liberties Restoration Act 2004 (S. 2528) would end secret hearings, ensure due process for detained individuals, limit secret seizures of records, and limit the use of secret evidence.
Status: Introduced by members of the House and Senate June 16, and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Source: Text of the bill, June 16, 2004. A bill analysis & talking points is available from the Rights Working Group.
Action: Organizations can add their name to this letter and individuals can send a letter to Congress.


Should trains identify hazardous materials? Tom Ridge wants input
Despite their own study concluding the current system works, the Department of Homeland Security wants to know if railcars should continue to identify whether their contents are hazardous. Quickly identifying hazards is critical to saving lives in an accident involving hazardous chemicals.
Status: The Department of Homeland Security is accepting public comment on the proposal through October 18, 2004.
Action: Read the proposal. Note: Check these updates for a sample letter to be posted as soon as the government begins accepting public comment through its electronic docket system.


Sensitive Security Information (SSI): Federalism v. Secrecy
The Senate pushed to pre-empt state and local sunshine laws in order to mandate secrecy about public safety problems in aviation, rail and other transportation systems.
Status: The administration-sponsored secrecy provisions were in the Senate-passed version of the $ 350 billion transportation bill (H.R. 3550); the version passed by the House lacks them. Currently in conference.
Action: Send a letter through the American Library Association action alert.



Patriot Act: Extending Patriot Act
H.R. 3179, introduced by Reps. Sensenbrenner and Goss, includes several sections of Patriot II. After opposition from many groups coordinated by the Rights Working Group, H.R. 3179 was not added to the intelligence authorization bill (S. 2386) during a closed mark-up session on June 16th.
Status: May come up as a floor amendment to the intelligence authorization bill in the Senate.
Source: Bill of Rights Defense Committee.


Patriot Act: Patriot Act Sunsets
On May 21, ten senators introduced a bill, S. 2476, that would make permanent many provisions of the Patriot Act scheduled to sunset next year.
Status: The bill is referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Source: THOMAS.


DHS Environmental Procedures Promote Secrecy
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is looking to hide Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), partially or in whole, from public disclosure. A June 14 directive published in the Federal Register would exempt the agency from a number of requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Status: The public comment period CLOSED Aug. 16 and DHS is reviewing comments.
Source: OMB Watcher and DHS website.


Indian Affairs FOIA Exemption
Section 7 of S. 297, the Federal Acknowledgment Process Reform Act of 2003 exempts certain actions by the Interior Department’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Several groups and individuals voiced objections to a Senate Bureau of Indian Affairs reform bill, in a letter delivered to Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) July 8.
Status: Committee markup is complete and the FOIA exemptions still remain. Not likely to come up on the floor but could be pushed through before the end of the session.
Source: OMB Watcher, July 12, 2004.


** Check out the Policy section of the OpenTheGovernment.org Resource Center. This section provides background and analysis of various policies that could restrict the public’s access to government information and infringe on their right to know important information. Resources include policies on the Data Quality Act, E-Government, the Freedom of Information Act, Judicial Secrecy, Whistleblower Protections, and Homeland Security such as Chemical Security and the Patriot Act.


News Highlights


OpenTheGovernment.org released a Report Card that finds the presence and cost of secrecy in government is rising. For every $ 1 the federal government spent last year releasing old secrets, it spent an extraordinary $ 120 maintaining the secrets already on the books. Read the press release and download the full report. Also, read some of the media hits from the Associated Press, Wired News, and the New York Times.


Looking for authors! The Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service distributes op-ed opinion pieces on any topic related to freedom of information. 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 to Ray Walker at rwalker@krtinfo.com and oped@krtinfo.com. Please also let us know if you submit a piece!


Bush’s National Guard file missing required records
Documents required to explain the missing pieces of President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service are missing, as the government responded to a a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Associated Press saying it had released all records it could find.
[Associated Press Sept. 7, 2004]


DOJ Asks Court for Secrecy In Suit
Citing Sensitive Security Information (SSI), the Justice Department has asked a court not to disclose its arguments in the case of privacy advocate John Gilmore, who is challenging federal requirements to show identification before boarding an airplane.
[Washington Post Sept. 6, 2004]


‘Secrets’ Perplex Panel: Classified Data Growing to Include ‘Comically Irrelevant’
Examples of ridiculous abuse of the classification system were disclosed in House subcommittee hearing on the 9/11 commission’s findings. These include a former dictator’s cocktail preferences and a facetious plot against Santa Claus.
[Washington Post Sept. 3, 2004]


U.S. Moves to Seal Ex-Boeing Worker Case
The government is trying to seal court records about a former U.S. Air Force official that was illegally negotiating a job offer with Boeing while still working for the Air Force.
[Reuters Sept. 2, 2004]



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