WASHINGTON – After hearing objections raised by Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley about the Department of Justice’s proposal to make potentially misleading statements to Americans submitting Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requests if the documents are deemed by the agency as inappropriate to release, the department is now saying that they are pulling the proposed regulation.
Grassley said that while the proposed regulation is being stopped, there remain questions about how agencies handle these requests. He said that there’s a balance that needs to be struck between ensuring national security or other sensitive requests and the public’s right to know.
“The Justice Department decided that misleading the American people would be wrong, and made the right decision to pull the proposed regulation. The American people are increasingly cynical with the federal government, and increasing transparency can be an important tool to build more trust,” Grassley said. “In other words, the public’s business ought to be public.”
The controversy stems from recent reports that the Justice Department was considering changing existing FOIA regulations to allow agencies responding to a FOIA request to state that no records exist, even if the records do, in fact, exist, whenever they determine that the requested documents they possess fit within a certain exclusion of the law.
In response to the Justice Department’s proposal, Grassley wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder expressing concern and asking for additional information about the proposed changes.
Grassley wrote in his letter to the Attorney General, “The new proposed regulation stands in stark contrast to both the President’s and your prior statements about FOIA, transparency, and open government. In fact, this policy directly contradicts your many statements, to me and other members of the Judiciary Committee, as part of your nomination hearing, that you support transparency of the Executive Branch.”
Grassley has championed the public’s right to know by strengthening and reforming sunshine laws, including oversight and enforcement of the FOIA, and measures to protect watchdogs and whistleblowers.
A signed copy of Grassley’s October 28, 2010 letter can be found by clicking here.
The response from the Justice Department can be found here.