National Press Club

National Press Club urges administration to reconsider Freedom of Information Act revision

October 25, 2011 | By John M. Donnelly | jdonnelly@cq.com

The National Press Club expressed concern on Oct. 24 about a proposed new Freedom of Information Act rule that appears to require the government to deny the existence of certain documents even when that is not true.

Federal agencies have long been able to withhold from public disclosure under the law certain categories of information, including data that pertains to ongoing criminal investigations or that is classified.

Under the new Department of Justice proposal, in replying to a request for information under the freedom-of-information law, if the information is allowed to be withheld under certain statutory exceptions, then federal officials “will respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist” -- even if that is not the case.

“No rule or law should allow, let alone require, the government to mislead the press or the public about anything,” said Club President Mark Hamrick, a broadcast journalist with the Associated Press. “If enacted, it appears that this proposed rule would offend the precepts that informed the Freedom of Information Act, and it would tarnish the government’s credibility.

“What’s more, the change seems unnecessary,” Hamrick added. “If agencies are exercising legally allowable exceptions to the law and withholding certain records, they can just continue to do as they do today: neither confirm nor deny the information’s existence.”

The proposed rule already has drawn fire from several organizations concerned about public access to information, including Openthegovernment.org, the American Civil Liberties Union and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.