Federal Legislation Calls For Restoring FOIA

Rep. Henry Waxman introduced a bill to make government records more open to the public. He cited the Bush administration’s “unprecedented assault on the laws that make our government open and accountable.” The bill is called the Restore Open Government Act and would re-instate Clinton-era federal FOI Act policy.

 

Federal legislation calls for restoring FOIA

Source: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

WASHINGTON (September 16, 2004) — Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), citing what he calls the Bush administration’s “unprecedented assault on the laws that make our government open and accountable, ” introduced a bill Tuesday to make government records more open to the public.

The bill, called the Restore Open Government Act, would reinstate Clinton-era federal FOI Act policy, which advocated a strong presumption in favor of documents’ release. That presumption ended Oct. 12, 2001, when U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told the heads of all federal departments and agencies that they could be “assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions [to withhold requested government records from FOI Act requesters] unless they lack a sound legal basis . . . .”

Waxman’s bill also would amend the Homeland Security Act, which prohibits disclosure to FOI requesters of information voluntarily given to the government by banks, Internet providers, water and sewer plants — anyone contributing to the nation’s “critical infrastructure.” Waxman’s proposal would narrow that confidentiality provision, offering it only for information that might compromise critical infrastructure security. Line-by-line redaction of exempt data would put FOI Act disclosure or critical infrastructure information in line with other government document disclosure.

The bill also would revoke President Bush’s Executive Order 13233, which weakened the Presidential Records Act by making it easier for current and former presidents to indefinitely stall the release of former presidential papers.

Another provision of the bill would expand the requirements for presidential interagency advisory committees to release records under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, to clearly cover executive branch task forces such as Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force. Cheney outraged open government advocates and became the subject of litigation when he refused to release records showing what private entities advised the task force. That case is currently on remand to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Other provisions in Waxman’s bill would create a federal policy against the overclassification of documents and expand a plaintiff’s ability to recover attorneys fees for successful FOI Act litigation.

Waxman also released an 81-page report, Secrecy in the Bush Administration , that complements his bill by detailing the evolution of government secrecy under President Bush. The report provides an in-depth discussion of the Bush administration’s activities that inspired the proposed reforms.