Dec 22, 2007

Information Con Game

NY Times Editorial

The very title of a now 41-year-old law — the Freedom of Information Act — sounds naïve in today’s Washington, where government secrecy has become an even higher and darker art under the Bush administration.

The open-government law, known as FOIA, should be one of the chief tools for citizens to find out what’s actually happening. For that, citizens’ requests for information would have to be answered. Instead, FOIA requests have disappeared into the bureaucratic maw for up to 20 years with no answer for why the statutory 20-day deadline has become such a Dickensian maze of delay and frustration.

Call it reform or call it revenge, but Congress has just passed a measure to tackle glaring flaws in the FOIA process. With overwhelming bipartisan support, the measure would:
  • Prod stricter deadlines with a numerical tracking system so citizens could follow their requests like (lost) package deliveries.
  • Establish clear penalties for foot-dragging, including repayment of attorney fees for applicants found suffering the run-around at recalcitrant agencies.
  • Create an ombudsman office at the National Archives to mediate disputes over requests, which currently are rejected outright in a full third of the cases.
  • Ensure that information records held by private government contractors can no longer be kept off-limits to FOIA requests.
Contrary to initial expectations, FOIA has come to be used mainly by business firms, lawyers and information services, with the news media accounting for only about 6 percent of requests. This undoubtedly made for easier passage of reforms in Congress. The Justice Department registered some early objections, but so far there’s been no veto threat from President Bush. It’s no final cure-all for the secrecy that infects Washington, but Mr. Bush owes this measure of relief to constituents entitled to their curiosity.


Pinky and The Brain said...

"Ensure that information records held by private government contractors can no longer be kept off-limits to FOIA requests."

I guess nobody who handles FOIA requests will be getting RIFed!

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that LANS is a "for-profit" corporation and not the federal government. LANL's official government work might be requested by outsiders using FOIA, but the LANS insider corporate stuff is strictly off limits.

Even the LANL general staff still can't see the LANS agreement used to win the RFP contract or even the official LANS SSP/Workforce Restructuring plans. It's considered "proprietary company information", just like the LANL salaries.

The fact that LANS feels the need to hold this stuff back is very telling. What don't they want us to see?

Pinky and The Brain said...

See also this post from May:

Los Alamos Blocks Researcher Access To Archives