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Thread: Publishers Praise Obama's FOI Memo

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    Publishers Praise Obama's FOI Memo

    Publishers praise Obama’s FOI memo

    By Jane Henderson
    Post-Dispatch Book Editor

    American publishers have issued a press release praising President Obama’s directions on providing public records of government activities. Here’s the release:

    Washington, DC, January 23, 2009— The Association of American Publishers (AAP) applauded actions taken by President Barack Obama on his first full day in office that will greatly strengthen the ability of authors and journalists to shed light on the government’s actions and hold them up to public view.

    In a stunning repudiation of the Bush Administration policies of stealth and secrecy, President Obama issued a directive to all departments and agencies within the Executive Branch to administer the Freedom of Information Act with a clear presumption, with respect to the release of government records, that “in the face of doubt, openness prevails.” The Obama memorandum, released on January 21, 2009, nullifies the memorandum issued by former Attorney General John Ashcroft encouraging government agencies to stonewall FOIA requests.

    President Obama also issued an Executive Order overturning the Bush Executive Order limiting access to presidential records. Executive Order 13,233 issued in November 2001 gave incumbent and former presidents, vice presidents, and even members of their families veto power over the release of presidential papers, essentially overturning the Presidential Records Act, which was enacted in response to abuses of the Nixon Administration and which clearly established permanent public ownership and control of presidential papers. The publishing industry was strongly opposed to the Bush Executive Order from the outset and AAP took the lead on an amicus brief in an unsuccessful legal challenge.

    “Whatever else this Administration accomplishes, history already owes President Obama a debt of gratitude for restoring the integrity of the Presidential Records Act,” said Judith Platt, who directs AAP’s Freedom to Read program. “The PRA and the Freedom of Information Act, vital tools for journalists and authors, have been undermined and treated with contempt for eight years. We’re delighted to see them made whole again.”

    The Association of American Publishers is the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry. AAP’s approximately 300 members include most of the major commercial book publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and non-profit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies. AAP members publish hardcover and paperback books in every field, educational materials for the elementary, secondary, post-secondary and professional markets, scholarly journals, computer software and electronic products and services. The Association represents an industry whose very existence depends upon the free exercise of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Obama restores some of the 'Freedom' to FOIA

    By Michael Doyle | McClatchy Newspapers

    WASHINGTON — One curious soul on Feb. 8, 2001, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the State Department.

    He or she is still awaiting a reply.

    Nearly eight years have passed, making the early 2001 search for information one of the State Department's 10 oldest pending FOIA requests. While extreme, it also reflects how information flow slowed markedly during the Bush administration.

    "In the past, it's been difficult even for a public agency like ourselves to obtain information that affects our operations," Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District in Fresno, Calif., said on Friday.

    As one of his first acts, President Barack Obama issued an order reversing his predecessor's approach toward the release of government documents. Scholars, journalists, farmers and the simply curious now await the reopening of federal information taps tightened since 2001.

    In fiscal 2007, for instance, the Defense Department completely granted approximately 48 percent of the FOIA requests it processed. In fiscal 1998, by contrast, the Clinton administration's Defense Department completely granted approximately 61 percent of FOIA requests.

    The Pentagon was not alone, a review of federal agency reports shows. Percentages are approximate, because of how the reports are compiled, but trends are obvious.

    The Interior Department completely granted approximately 64 percent of FOIA requests processed in 1998 but only 47 percent in 2007. The State Department completely granted 28 percent of FOIA requests processed in 1998, compared with 9 percent in 1998.

    Other federal agencies, though not all, likewise lessened access to information during the Bush administration, the review of public records reveals.

    The decline was most pronounced in agencies known for keeping secrets. The CIA completely granted approximately 44 percent of FOIA requests processed in 1998. By 2007, this had fallen to 11 percent. Other agencies followed suit. The Agriculture Department completely granted 85 percent of FOIA requests in 2007, down from 95 percent a decade before.

    The Freedom of Information Act, signed into law in 1966, invites widespread use. Documents may be released completely, denied completely or, as often happens, released partially.

    Each year, 2 million or more requests are received by federal agencies.

    The requests run the gamut. The secretive National Security Agency receives frequent FOIA requests seeking information on UFOs, the Food and Drug Administration fields numerous corporate FOIA requests, and political opposition researchers regularly use the law in search of dirt.

    Delays are common in every administration. The zipped-lip trend accelerated, though, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

    "Any discretionary decision by your agency to disclose information protected under the FOIA should be made only after full and deliberate consideration of the institutional, commercial and personal privacy interests that could be implicated by disclosure of the information," then-Attorney General John Ashcroft cautioned in an Oct. 12, 2001, memo.

    Tellingly, Ashcroft told federal officials they could "be assured" the Justice Department would defend decisions to withhold public records. Attorney and FOIA specialist Scott A. Hodes, who formerly worked for the Justice Department, added that the "overall secrecy feel of the Bush administration" contributed to the more frequent denials.

    "They attempted to withhold routine decision making processes . . . no matter how mundane it was, or if it was just embarrassing to the administration," Hodes said.

    Obama seems to spin this around, with his presidential memo issued Jan. 21.

    "All agencies should adopt a presumption of disclosure," Obama wrote, adding that "in the face of doubt, openness should prevail."

    Fulfilling this promise, though, could prove difficult, as the number of federal information-access officers has shrunk. The Justice Department, for instance, reported having 872 full-time FOIA staffers working in 1998. By 2007, the department's full-time FOIA staff had fallen to 365.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

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