Senate drops controversial Title V proposals, passes FY13 intel authorization bill (S. 3454)

The nine members of the Sunshine in Government Initiative are pleased the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (S. 3454) does not include proposals that would have curtailed the flow of information to the public about national security and foreign affairs. The media takes seriously the obligation to consider potential harms from disclosures of sensitive information while reporting the news. These proposals simply went too far in cutting off vital information to the public about world events and national security issues and had not been subject to adequate consideration by Congress.
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Senate drops anti-leaks proposals

The nine members of the Sunshine in Government Initiative are pleased Senate negotiators dropped controversial proposals in the Intelligence  Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (S. 3454) that would have harmed news reporting on national security and foreign affairs.

The media takes seriously the obligation to consider potential harms from disclosures of sensitive information while reporting the news. These proposals simply went too far in cutting off vital information to the public about world events and national security issues and had not been subject to adequate consideration by Congress.

What they are saying: Criticism of anti-leaks provisions of intel authorization (S. 3454)

Criticism of sections 505 and 506 of S. 3454, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (emphases added):

The legislation would end contacts that often benefit both the government and the public by allowing the exchange of accurate information about vital national security issues and intelligence activities, including abuses requiring attention. As executive editor of The Washington Post for 17 years, I know firsthand that such conversations also help the news media avoid publishing information that, inadvertently, might harm national security.

Without access to knowledgeable career officials, it would be much more difficult for the news media to determine the accuracy of information or whether its publication or broadcast could truly harm national security.

Especially in times of war, declared or undeclared, it is important to maintain the right balance between accountability and national security.

¬†–Washington Post op-ed by former executive editor Leonard Downie Jr., December 6, 2012

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OGIS & OMB decide not to make recommendations to Congress

We are deeply disappointed and concerned that the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) — the FOIA Ombudsman — will not be transmitting its recommendations to Congress for improving FOIA.

OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet sent a letter to Senators Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Ranking Member Charles Grassley noting that OGIS sent draft recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and after consulting with them decided not to send recommendations to Congress.

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Senate Approves FOIA Delays Commission, Adds Momentum to Improving FOIA

The Senate yesterday passed legislation (S. 3111) that would create a commission to study delays and other problems with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

“This legislation adds momentum to get to the bottom of FOIA’s longstanding limits,” said Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative. “Too often the first advice to getting information from government is, ‘Avoid FOIA if you can.’ FOIA should help people obtain the information they seek from our government in a timely manner. While FOIA is vital to ensuring transparency when it’s inconvenient or embarrassing, using FOIA can be slow and unreliable. We hope this study will find ways FOIA can work better for agencies and the public. We applaud Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) for their longstanding efforts to make FOIA work better.”

The Congress and executive branch have recently focused on improving FOIA.

In 2007, Congress enacted amendments that created the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) within the National Archives and Records Administration to mediate FOIA disputes and recommend improvements to FOIA, improve incentives for federal agencies to avoid open records lawsuits and require agencies to track more information about their own FOIA compliance.

Congress has held several hearings in the past year to keep tabs on OGIS as it starts up and take the pulse of FOIA.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department announced it would create a FOIA Dashboard to help the public view agency FOIA performance and track improvements in agency operations.

The House of Representatives must still take up the legislation.

For more on the legislation, see Sen. Leahy’s statement and Senator Cornyn’s release.

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