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No more secrets …

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A Vermont Democrat and a Texas Republican are trying to prevent fellow members of Congress from keeping secret how they keep secrets.

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced June 7 S.1181, a bill that would prevent members of Congress from making “stealth exemptions” to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, this is how representatives and senators hide “under the radar”:

Because the current section of the FOI Act allowing the exceptions does not require any particular notice that it is being invoked, senators and congressmen have been able to bury exemptions to the act deep in unrelated pieces of legislation.

There are at least 140 cases where congressional lawmakers have inserted such exemptions, according to a 2003 Justice Department report, Cox News Service reported last week.

The “section 8” bill would only allow a statute to invoke the exception section if it “specifically cites” that section of the FOI Act.

This isn’t the only time Cornyn and Leahy have teamed up to maintain the sharpness of FOIA’s teeth. In February, they introduced S.394, the “OPEN Government Act,” which would strengthen some provisions of FOIA.

The two senators have also sought to attack a principal bureaucratic tactic for weakening FOIA — delay, delay, delay. Leahy and Cornyn in March introduced S.589, the “Faster FOIA act,” which would create a commission to study the nature of delays of federal agencies under FOIA purview in processing requests.

Passing these bills would mean better access for citizens (journalists are citizens, too) to information governments don’t want them to know.

If you need persuading, visit OMB Watch for this detailed backgrounder.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

June 9, 2005 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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