JANUARY 14, 2009
As the notoriously secretive Bush Administration prepares to leave, several federal agencies have created last-minute rules to further restrict the public’s access to government records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
A recent report published by a pair of journalism organizations identified several measures that the outgoing administration is taking in its final days to make it even harder for the public to access government information that should be readily available.
The Department of Energy wants to eliminate a rule that allows it to release documents determined to serve the public interest and the Department of Education has vastly expanded its power to refuse release of materials even after redactions to remove students’ names and other identifying data.
Other government agencies are creating barriers by raising fees that they can charge the public for processing records. One is the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the federal agency that protects investors, which drastically raised its fees at a time when access to information about companies was crucial to the public. In some cases the public could be charged as much as $70 an hour to obtain SEC records.
These examples simply mark the Bush Administration’s last hurrah in withholding public records. From the moment Bush moved into the White House, administration officials worked to restrict information about the government. In fact, Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft authored a 2001 memo encouraging federal agencies to withhold records whenever possible.
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