Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bless you Tom Curley!

     The CEO of the Associated Press testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee recently about the Freedom of Information Act(FOIA) and it's monsterous collection of loopholes that it contains.  His first point, which comes to no surprise to me, is that the Office of Government Information Services(OGIS), established by the Open Government Act of 2007 to ensure that agencies compliance to FOIA, is overworked and underfunded. Side note:  It took almost two years to get OGIS up and running.

     It is no secret that Federal agencies have fought every step of the way to keep information out of public eyes.  If there is one truth in Washington it is: If you can't kill the bill, put tons of loopholes in it, and if that doesn't work, ignore it and hope no one enforces it.  I already knew that the FOIA contained a list of exemptions that allowed certain kinds of information to be kept from the public despite any FOIA requests that may come through. Curley, however, notes that there are even more loopholes that appear to be in the works (I'll let him speak for himself here):

"I’d like to focus in my remaining few minutes on the fourth and final point -- that so-called b(3) amendments to legislation are severely undermining FOIA’s ability to preserve the public’s access to government activities and information.

As you know, b(3)s are provisions embedded in other laws that put certain very specific kinds of information beyond FOIA’s reach. They are often inserted with little or no discussion and no public notice, and they now constitute a very large black hole in our open records law. The Sunshine in Government Initiative found about 250 b(3)’s on the books, and about 140 of these show up in agency denial letters in any given year.

In many cases these special exemptions protect information already covered under one or more of the other exemptions in FOIA’s section B. In other cases they are creating whole new categories of information not subject to disclosure."

Black hole indeed..

     Yes, I understand that there are some rare times when information should be protected, but what's the point of claiming to have a transparent government when the law supporting it is shot full of holes?  It's lip service pure and simple.  Nonetheless, it's nice to see that members of the press are not giving up on making our multi-headed behemoth of a Federal Government more transparent, even while agencies and politicians cry and scream, albeit behind closed doors.  This is far to important of an issue to let up now.

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