DOJ changes to FOIA undermine transparency, critics say

The Justice Department recently issued a proposal to “update and streamline” its rules for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, but open government advocates are crying foul.

“If adopted, the rules will be a huge step back for transparency,” John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation, wrote in an Oct. 28 blog entry. “They are worse than you think.”

The provision that has received the most publicity is one that would allow DOJ officials to deny the existence of a certain type of record, even if the record exists. Justice officials have described it in several media reports as a policy that has been in use since 1987 to protect the integrity of certain undercover investigative activities.

But advocates said the provision would, in effect, permit federal officials to lie to the public.

“It’s hard to believe that the Justice Department thinks it’s appropriate to make false statements to the American people to avoid releasing sensitive documents,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in an Oct. 28 statement. “How about being truthful and simply saying that if the documents exist they would be sensitive and couldn’t be provided?”

But that is not the only provision that open government supporters have found disturbing. Wonderlich said the proposed rule also would make it easier for the DOJ to deny requests that aren't addressed precisely to the correct department; dismiss requests if DOJ deems the wording too vague; make it more difficult for requests to be deemed urgent and insulate department heads from having to stand by denials, among other provisions.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center also expressed its objections to the proposal, which it called “profoundly disappointing. “These changes would undermine the federal open government act, are contrary to law, and exceed the authority of the agency,” the group wrote in its comments submitted to DOJ.

The Justice Department extended public comments to the proposal. The new deadline expired on Oct. 18.

“The only good news here is that DOJ reopened their comments after transparency advocates raised their voices. Let's hope they scrap this entire rule and start over,” Wonderlich wrote in his blog.



About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • Social network, census

    5 predictions for federal IT in 2017

    As the Trump team takes control, here's what the tech community can expect.

  • Rep. Gerald Connolly

    Connolly warns on workforce changes

    The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee's Government Operations panel warns that Congress will look to legislate changes to the federal workforce.

  • President Donald J. Trump delivers his inaugural address

    How will Trump lead on tech?

    The businessman turned reality star turned U.S. president clearly has mastered Twitter, but what will his administration mean for broader technology issues?

  • Login.gov moving ahead

    The bid to establish a single login for accessing government services is moving again on the last full day of the Obama presidency.

  • Shutterstock image (by Jirsak): customer care, relationship management, and leadership concept.

    Obama wraps up security clearance reforms

    In a last-minute executive order, President Obama institutes structural reforms to the security clearance process designed to create a more unified system across government agencies.

  • Shutterstock image: breached lock.

    What cyber can learn from counterterrorism

    The U.S. has to look at its experience in developing post-9/11 counterterrorism policies to inform efforts to formalize cybersecurity policies, says a senior official.

Reader comments

Thu, Nov 3, 2011 Disgruntled

Well what do you expect from the DOJ, which LIED about the gun running investigation, a Congress that allows unqualified cronies into key positions as appointees, and a Whitehouse and President that think they can issue edicts and decrees like nobility of old and make them law without the will of the people or the legislative process. I believe this move is a CYOA for the guns and other issues under the current US AG, his cronies, and the Whitehouse

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group