For more than 30 years the Freedom of Information Act has provided the American people with their first real look inside the operation of the federal government. Over that period, with few exceptions, the government has provided the public with documents, files, audiotapes, video tapes, photographs, etc.; all under the authority of "The Freedom of Information Act".
However, the openness that has existed for the last thirty years is beginning to close. Events and internal government decisions have eroded the freedom of information that we have a right to expect from our government.
The problems are essentially these:
- Disclosure Officers attend special seminars designed to teach them how to avoid disclosing information that is proper and legal to disclose under the Freedom of Information Act.
- There is no mandatory discipline system for Disclosure Officers (or others) who withhold information that is properly and legal able to be disclosed under the Act.
- The response times to requests have become so long as to virtually defeat the purpose of the Act.
- The "appeals" procedure has been removed from the regulations. This means that if a Disclosure Officer improperly withholds information, recourse can only be had through the United States District Court.
- US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, has gone on record as telling Disclosure Officers to use their own judgment as to what should be disclosed and that the US Department of Justice will defend their actions.
- The US government has become obsessed with secrecy in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001.
Amendments to the Freedom of Information Act are now required to insure that this most valuable legislation remains a viable tool to the American people. Here are the proposed changes (in plain English, not legalese):
- Disclosure Officers may only receive disclosure training from federal employees, not outside contractors.
- All disclosure training classes shall be videotaped in their entirety.
- Videotapes of any disclosure training class will be available under the Act.
- Upon a finding that any government employee tasked with training Disclosure Officers engaged in any dialogue with a Disclosure Officer, or Disclosure Officer trainee, concerning the withholding of requested information for reasons other than the exemptions provided for by the Act, shall be suspended from duty, without pay, for a period of 30 days.
- Upon a finding that any Disclosure Department Supervisor suggested, urged, recommended, implied, or directed any Disclosure Officer to withhold requested information other than that which is exempt from disclosure under the exemptions provided for by the Act, shall be suspended from duty, without pay, for a period of 30 days.
- Any Disclosure Officer who withholds requested information other than that which is exempt from disclosure under the exemptions provided for by the Act shall be suspended from duty, without pay, for a period of 14 days.
- Any employee of an agency (such agency not otherwise exempt from the Act) who fails to provide a Disclosure Officer with any requested information within his possession shall be suspended from duty for 14 days.
- Upon a finding that two or more agency employees have conspired to prevent the disclosure of information not specifically exempted by the Act, the employees so involved shall be terminated from federal employment.
- Agencies must provide the requester with the requested information, or a denial, within 20 days, unless there are extenuating circumstances why the retrieval and production of said information must take more than 20 days. If such a delay is to take place, the Disclosure Officer must notify the requester of the delay and provide specifics as to the reason for the delay, along with the date that such information shall be provided. Such date shall not exceed 60 days from the request date. The term "extenuating circumstances" does not include understaffing of the Disclosure Office by the agency or any circumstance directly under the control of the agency, nor does the term include the volume of requests received by the agency.
- If the requested information is not provided within 20 days, the requester may consider the request denied.
- All agencies, not otherwise exempt from the Act, must provide an appeals process after a denial by a Disclosure Officer.
- The Appeals Office shall resolve all appeals within 30 days of receipt of the appeal.
- All appeals shall be resolved with the purpose of the Act (disclosure) in mind.
- Upon suit in the United States District Court, concerning appeals not resolved within 30 days, the court shall release all requested information without regard to statutory exemptions. Information concerning active criminal investigations or information that would violate the privacy of third party if released shall be exempt from this provision.
- The US Attorney General, or his delegates, may only defend a disclosure suit when the information denied by the Disclosure Officer can reasonably be supported by application of the exemption provision stated by the Disclosure Officer as the reason for the denial. This provision should be liberally construed in favor of the requester.
- The US Attorney General, or his delegates, may only defend a disclosure suit by applying the exemption cited by the Disclosure Officer at the time the request was denied.
Original Intent intends to contact Congressmen and Senators around the Union, seeking sponsors for these amendments to the Freedom of Information Act.
We are actively looking for citizens who wish to assist in this effort. If you would like to assist in this effort, please contact our Political Affairs Division at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Modified: Sat, 07 Apr 2012 14:21:14 -0700