Tues -1/29: TODAY is the deadline to stop Trump’s destruction of our right to know.

Action – Write a protest comment and submit it TODAY (Tues) by 11:59 pm EST.

Trump started censoring public information before he was even elected.

However, even as president, he can’t totally abolish the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but he can direct how executive agencies respond to our requests, which has already started. According to APNews: “The federal government censored, withheld or said it couldn’t find records sought by citizens, journalists and others more often last year than at any point in the past decade… People who asked for records under (FOIA) received censored files or nothing in 78 percent of 823,222 requests, a record over the past decade. When it provided no records, the government said it could find no information related to the request in a little over half those cases.”

Not only did the government completely fill only 1 of 5 requests, it has also wasted $40.6 million of our tax dollars last year in legal fees defending its decisions to withhold federal files, also a record. Now they would like to censor information more officially, so they don’t attract so many lawsuits.

Today’s attack on FOIA involves the Department of the Interior. If this is successful, others are sure to follow.

Comment here. Or here  (Please use your own words. Comment examples at the bottom. Reword in your own voice! .)

Background:

Let’s define terms…

  • “Look over there!” : Agency announces proposed gutting of democratic norms on Fridays at 4 pm Eastern.
  • “Nothing to see here”: Agency will announce proposed change just before a holiday.
  • Feels like a coverup: Agency won’t even make an announcement, it will simply post it in the Federal Register—ideally between Christmas and New Year’s.
  • Going nuclear: No announcement, posted between holidays AND during a government shutdown! It gets no better than this!

The FOIA proposal was behind Door #4!: It comes as no surprise that this rule proposal to gut FOIA was submitted into the news cycle on Dec. 28th, between Xmas and New Year’s and while we were all watching stories of federal employees returning their kid’s gifts.

The official story: An Interior spokesperson cited increased litigation, largely stemming from the FOIA backlog (due to the Trump administration’s actions), as a reason for the rearrangement, saying it will allow more “consistency.”

Restructuring the FOIA operations and management structure will increase accountability, consistency, collaboration, and distribution of resources,” the spokesperson said. “They will also complement technology and related processing improvements already underway. This increased efficiency will mean greater transparency.

Hahahahahaha! As usual, it means the opposite.: The proposed rule would hide fuel for ethics investigations, as well as our Interior Department’s facilitation of private corporations’ mining, logging, drilling and fracking for oil on 500 million acres of national parks and monuments, wildlife refuges, and other public lands. The proposed changes would limit the number of FOIA requests processed each month and would allow the agencies to reject any requests they want to, merely citing that they are “burdensome” or “vague” requests, or those that require “the bureau to locate, review, redact, or arrange for inspection of a vast quantity of material.” There are no published definitions for “vast quantity”, “burdensome”, or “vague”. It will also do the following:

  • Monthly limit for processing records requests ( 2.14)
  • Subjecting parts of the FOIA process to approvals or review by political appointees ( 2.2, 2.20, 2.23, and 2.24)
  • Changing the language from time limit to time frame, which conflicts with FOIAs statutory mandate ( 2.16, 2.18, 2.19, 2.28, 2.37, 2.51, 2.57, 2.58, 2.59, 2.62)
  • Increasing requirements for the specificity of records requests ( 2.5)
  • Increasing requirements on eligibility for fee waivers ( 2.45, 2.48)

Who started this?: “A fish rots from the head down”, but let’s put implementation on Former Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke because he went on record for wanting to create “the most transparent Interior” in our lifetime about the workings of the DOI. The irony is that journalists and advocacy groups used FOIA requests to learn enough about Zinke that he had to resign.

Zinke left us a parting “gift”: He installed former Koch brothers adviser Daniel Jorjani to be Interior’s Chief FOIA Officer. Mr. Jorjani is also on record, for saying that he had “worked and successfully protected” Interior presidential appointments who had undergone investigations from the internal watchdog (Office of the Inspector General). “At the end of the day,” he added, “our job is to protect the Secretary.”

Meg Townsend, government attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity stated: “With a Koch crony in charge of records requests, the department will work in darkness. Public records that might shame Zinke or big polluters will be covered up.”

These changes are designed to facilitate more official stonewalling and delays in producing public records, especially on fast developing news stories,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, in a statement.

Sunlight’s Record of the First 100 Days:

(This great list is from the Sunlight Foundation)

  • How candidates conduct campaigns and transitions carries into office. After making himself available to the press through July, Trump set a bar as the least transparent modern presidential candidate in modern history. He held no press conference until from July 2016 until January 11, 2017,  released no tax returns, and made no proactive disclosures around transition or inauguration. He held his first and only solo presidential press conference on February 16, 2017.
  • Ethics: Lack of disclosure of tax returns and divestment in accordance with decades of tradition set up the Trump presidency for the ongoing appearance of corruption, with an unknown number of conflicts of interest around the world.
  • Secret waivers for administration officials, followed by the Office of Management and Budgets seeking to block the Office of Government Ethics from making a data call to obtain them.
  • No affirmative vision for open government. No public statements on the Freedom of Information Act, open government, open data, transparency, nor this year’s Sunshine Week. No whitehouse.gov/open.
  • Keeping the White House visitor logs secret
  • Congress voted to remove an anti-corruption rule, which President Trump signed with fanfare, abandoning U.S. leadership on transparency of payments by the extractive industries to government
  • Secret gag orders to agencies
  • Historic attacks on the role of the free press in democracy, with exclusion of American press on trips abroad.
  •  WhiteHouse.gov was missing policy documents, at launch. Executive orders postedlate. No OIRA website or dedicated OMB website or pages.
  • No US chief technology officer, nor any evidence of plans for one, along with hundreds of key appointees not submittedto the Senate, including the U.S. chief information officer, chief science advisor and dozens of other science and technology policy roles.
  • The President claimed to have made the most transparent selection of a nominee to be a Supreme Court Justice, given the campaign disclose of lists of potential nominees. When it came to announce his nominee, however, the White House tried to mislead out the press about another choice.
  • Antagonism to government statistics and evidence: President Trump repeatedly said federal jobs numbers were “phony” as a candidate but now were valid.
  • Levied attacks on the independent judiciary after judges struck down his executive order as unconstitutional.
  • Moved drones used in counterterrorism back to CIA, away from accountability and transparency at Department of Defense.
  • Secrecy around deregulation teams at agencies, with conflicts of interest.
  • A bans on recording at White House press briefing. No Wh.gov/live stream of briefing or archive of video on YouTube, as under the Obama administration. [Wh.gov/live, recorded briefings and YouTube all became functional later in 2017.]
  • No disclosure of Trump campaign official contacts with Russian nationals until after journalists reported them. No public address to the American public by the President explaining what Russia did, why the candidate urged Russia to find his political opponent’s email, or what the United States would do in response.

Reading:

  • US sets new record for censoring, withholding gov’t files (AP)
  • The Limits of Transparency and FOIA Under Trump (FirstAmendmentWatch)
  • Former Koch advisor to take over Interior FOIA requests (the hill)
  • FOIA record access change (outside online)

Comment examples.

Comment: (This is a “canned comment” – Mix it up) I oppose the Department of the Interior’s proposed revisions to the Freedom of Information Act regulations (Docket No. DOI-2018-0017).

This proposal would shut Americans out of decisions that affect millions of acres of public lands and minerals, parks and monuments, Native American Tribes, public health, the protection of fish and wildlife, and more.

The Department of the Interior should promote transparency and work to engage the public, not leave the agency — which is entrusted with the protection and management of the nation’s vast natural resources and cultural heritage — open to corruption and exploitation by eroding public oversight.

The American people have a right and a responsibility to ensure that the government of the people and by the people is working for the people.

Transparency is not a “burden.” It is a keystone of democracy, and it is our right. I call on the Department to abandon this proposal and restore transparency to the public as required by the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

Comment: (This is a “canned comment”. There are already thousands of this one. – Mix it up!)  I am very concerned about the Department of Interiors proposed revisions to its Freedom of Information Act regulations because these revisions will negatively impact my ability to access government information. I oppose Interiors rulemaking, specifically on these provisions:

* Monthly limit for processing records requests ( 2.14)

* Subjecting parts of the FOIA process to approvals or review by political appointees ( 2.2, 2.20, 2.23, and 2.24)

* Changing the language from time limit to time frame, which conflicts with FOIAs statutory mandate ( 2.16, 2.18, 2.19, 2.28, 2.37, 2.51, 2.57, 2.58, 2.59, 2.62)

* Increasing requirements for the specificity of records requests ( 2.5)

* Increasing requirements on eligibility for fee waivers ( 2.45, 2.48)

Government transparency is a cornerstone of our countrys participatory democracy and critical to my participation, as a member of the public, in the governments processes. Interiors proposed rule undermines this transparency by imposing excessive burdens on the public for access to the government. I therefore ask Interior to rescind its rulemaking.

Comment: For the sake of the American people I oppose these proposed rule changes to the Department of Interior’s FOIA procedures and processes. This proposal is inimical to open and transparent government and the public’s right to know.
Comment:  I am writing to object to the rule change proposed in late December that will enact changes in how the DOI will process FOIA requests.  The proposed rules will leave, at the discretion of the DOI, the option to reject information requests based on a vague and arbitrary standard. This will inevitably result in less transparency and accountability from our government agency. The proposal itself was made in a surreptitious manner and needs greater review to insure that citizens, journalists and advocacy groups have appropriate access to the public documents they are entitled to.

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