Cummings, Leahy, Grassley and Cornyn Raise Serious Concerns on Interior Proposed Rule on FOIA Procedures
Washington, D.C. (Mar. 5, 2019)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Member of the Senate Committee on Finance, sent a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) David Bernhardt expressing significant concern with the rule recently proposed by DOI concerning its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) procedures.
“The proposed rule appears to restrict public access to DOI’s records and delay the processing of FOIA requests in violation of the letter and spirit of FOIA,” the Members wrote. “The American people have the right to access information from DOI, and the proposed rule needlessly encroaches on that right. …Rather than clarifying DOI’s FOIA process, the proposed rule would make the process more confusing and potentially expose it to politicization and unnecessary litigation. In the spirit of transparency and advancing the public’s right to know, we urge you to reconsider the proposed rule.”
The proposed rule would do the following:
- Shift the burden of identifying the location of agency records from the agency to the public.
- Set limits on requests when they involve the processing of a “vast quantity of material.”
- Replace the phrase “time limit” in DOI’s FOIA regulations with “time frame,” which raises the concern that DOI might treat FOIA’s statutorily prescribed time limits as mere guidelines.
- Allow DOI to “impose a monthly limit on the processing of records” for a given requester. The proposed rule does not explain how the monthly limits would be determined, and it creates a vague standard that could be implemented arbitrarily and unfairly.
Click here to read today’s letter.