Jacking in from the Justice Port....
Washington, DC -- The Clinton Administration just kicked the slats out of a 12-year-old restriction on the Freedom of Information Act. The upshot: "To substantially increase the amount of government information that is made available to the public." Nice touch.
Clinton's order strikes down the 1981 rule that encouraged federal agencies to withhold information. Today, the rules changed: Now there's to be a "presumption of disclosure," said Attorney General Janet Reno. Aim of new policy is to make government "more open, more responsive, and more accountable," she said.
The government "should handle requests for information in a customer-friendly manner," President Clinton said. "Our commitment to openness requires more than merely responding to requests from the public."
Okay, let's cut to the chase: More information should be available under the FOIA and with less bullshit from bureaucrats.
Starting today, federal agencies sued under FOIA will only be defended by Justice if it can show it was "reasonably foreseeable that disclosure would be harmful" under a valid interest, like protecting a CIA agent's privacy or protecting a government covert action. There are more than 500 such lawsuits now pending, some more than a decade old.
Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell put a fine edge on the new policy: This is "a ship that's about to turn in a different direction." And just to prove it's sincere, the government is opening up a meeting of some 600 FOIA officers tomorrow (Tues.) to reporters and the public. The meeting is the annual review FOIA procedures; tomorrow it will focus on how to implement the new policy.
New policy is also going to overhaul the arcane forms some agencies use to intimidate FOIA requesters. (And if anyone has ever had to deal with the State Department's form, you know what a bitch these things can be.) Each form will be reviewed "for their correctness, completeness, consistency and particularly for their use of clear language," said memo from Reno to all senior level officials.
All agencies also will be required to give a full accounting of their FOIA backlogs (in State's case, as well as the FBI, this is thousands and thousands). With those logs, the agency head has to send a letter "describing the extent of any present FOIA backlog, FOIA staffing difficulties," memo said.