Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama on FOIA: "In the face of doubt, openness prevails"

"In the face of doubt, openness prevails," states an Obama Administration memorandum on FOIA, marking a shift in secrecy policy that is being lauded by historians. AHA Today reports that the document calls upon agencies to proactively "use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their government." Importantly, the presumption is in favor of disclosure, rather than nondisclosure. "The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears."
This memorandum is part of a broader change in access to federal records, with President Barack Obama signing an executive order on presidential records that overturned
an order from the Bush administration (E.O. 13233) that raised significant barriers to access to those records. This executive order had gained particular attention during the presidential primaries, as members of the Clinton administration seemed to be invoking the order to limit access to records from Hillary Clinton’s office (See the AHA Today post, "Clinton Librarians Accused of Stonewalling Record Requests"). Under the new executive order signed on Wednesday, presidents could only limit access by invoking executive privilege. The order lays out a clear process for reviewing all such claims.
Overall, however, "the news of the week was a bit mixed, as historians and ethics groups lost a lawsuit to preserve records from outgoing vice president Richard Cheney." The fuller story, with links, is here.