Open the Government.org is hosting a full day seminar tommorow concering open government issues including FOIA -- more information can be found here. Even if you can't be there, they will be live webcasting the event.
Representative Darrell issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MO), the Chair and Ranking Minority Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have introduced a bill amending the FOIA. The Examiner has details on the bill, including a link to a draft of the legislation.
The major takeaway of the amendments is the additonal responsibilities given to the Office of Government Information Services("OGIS") which is located in the National Archives and Records Administration. OGIS was set up in the 2007 FOIA Amendments and was largely to be a FOIA Ombudsman mediating disputes between agencies and requesters. The draft bill has it, among other things, answering to Congress on FOIA issues, being a assistant co-chair with DOJ's Office of Information and Privacy on a FOIA Officers Council. Other items in the bill are a codified period of time for requesters to file administrative appeals (90 days) and an adoption of the foreseeable harm standard in processing requests.
It will be very interesting to see if this moves in the House and if the Senate introduces a similar bill. Other things to watch for are whether there will be a move by the administration to fix the hole left by the Supreme Court decision narrowing Exemption 2 or if the requester community will add items from its own wishlist (such as a time limit on the use of certain Exemption 5 privileges).
The first portion of the 2013 DOJ FOIA Guide has been released. It's only a small part of the entire Guide but its a start. The Guide will only be available online according to the Department of Justice.
It's Sunshine Week, or as many see it, the week that the newspaper industry talks about FOIA and then forgets about it for 51 weeks.
Sunshine Week is also the week that the government runs out its most FOIA friendly policies. Last year, OPM introduced the FOIA job series for government workers. I'm not sure what it will be this year, but I have a couple of ideas.
First - I think the FDA will announce that its doing away with its minor redaction policy. If you've read this blog, you'll recall that Public Citizen put forth a petition for this policy to be abolished nearly six months ago and the FDA has another week to make a decision. The Washington Post has this on the policy. I predict that the FDA will make it decision during Sunshine Week and that the decision will be that the policy will be abolished.
Second - I believe the Department of Justice will introduce its latest update of the FOIA Guide. While I have no inside information on this, its been a long time since the Guide has been updated and I do know that work was being done on the update for at least the last six months. So if there ever was a time to spotlight the updated Guide it is this week. In fact, the DOJ is having a ceremony today for Sunshine Week. If the new Guide isn't introduced, it will be a lost opportunity.
Update: The Guide is out -- find it here. And honestly, I had no idea that it would be out today.
Foreign Entanglements Robert Farley interviews the National Security Archives Nate Jones about FOIA and the problems with getting older documents declassified and released to the public. It's an interesting interview for all people interested in FOIA and can be found here.
The FBI has released its files on the late Whitney Houston according to USA Today.
The file concerns extortion attempts against the singer. The FBI files of many famous people of the last 30 years usually concern the same issues as extortion is a federal offense, especially when it crosses state lines.
The Washington Post has this story which concerns a journalist who had his phones wiretapped by the government during the sixties. The CIA had released snippets of records on this activity in 2007 when it made a number of previously classified records available. However, when the journalist's son tried to get agency records on his father, the agency claimed most of the records were still not releaseable and have denied release of them through the administrative process. Other agencies, however, like the FBI have been more forthcoming and have released details of government surveillance on his father.
The Penatagon has denied the Washington Post's request for details on the investigation of Gen. John Allen and his emails with Tampa Socialite Jill Kelley because releasing any of the records would violate the personal privacy of third parties.
While I'm not sure that this decision is wrong, I'd like to know if the DOD actually balanced the public interest in the records against the privacy interests of the parties involved. How a civilian, Kelley, got access to military leaders and installations seems like a public interest that would, even if no misconduct is found, would lead to the release of some of the records.
The Blog of the Legal Times reports that United States Judge for the District of Columbia Louis Oberdorfer has passed away. While not a major figure in FOIA cases, Judge Oberdorfter handled many of them during his tenure on the court. In fact, the first case I handled at the Department of Justice was assigned to Judge Oberdorfer. His manner and wit calmed a very young attorney who found himself in the Judge's chambers with opposing counsel. I'll never forget Judge Oberdorfer telling me that my client's needed to segregate their material, even if it meant the the requester only got "gobbly gook." He is the only judge that has ever used that phrase in a FOIA context that I am aware of.
My prayers are with his friends and family as I am sure he will be missed.
Judge Emmit G. Sullivan of the United States District Court for the District Columbia has ruled against the State Department in its claim that records pertaining to an application for a NEXUS card to enter the United States does not fit into withholding requirements of 8 U.S.C. Section 1202(f) because the records themselves do not deal with the issuance or or refusals of visas or permits to enter the United States. The opinion can be found here.