WASHINGTON (AP) - In the middle of Sunshine Week, a period dedicated to government openness, the Obama administration is urging Congress to change the Freedom of Information Act to keep secret new categories of information that it says have been put a risk by a Supreme Court ruling.
Melanie Ann Pustay, director of the Justice Department's office of information policy, said Tuesday that lawmakers need to protect against disclosures of material about cyber security, critical U.S. computer networks, industrial plants, pipelines and more. Businesses have sought such protections for at least 10 years.
Pustay told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the March 2011 court ruling narrowed an exemption under the open records law and left federal agencies unable to protect such secrets, even though the Justice Department since then has recommended other ways under current law for officials to guard the data.
Public interest groups applauded the Supreme Court's decision because it restricted when the government can keep secret information about internal personnel rules and practices.
Keith Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, urged the committee not to give government "carte blanche" to withhold information. "Exemptions that are too broad, too loosely defined, and give too much far-reaching, unchecked authority for government to withhold information are in no one's interest," Bunting said.
Pustay told the committee that federal agencies have made significant progress in meeting President Barack Obama's order to make government more transparent. Agencies responded to more FOIA requests in 2011 than the year before, she said, and proactively made more information publicly available on their websites.
But Sen. Charles Grassley, the committee's top Republican, said the Obama administration has fallen well short of its promises.
"Based on my experience in trying to pry information out of the executive branch, I'm disappointed to report that agencies under the control of President Obama's political appointees have been more aggressive than ever in withholding information from the public and from Congress," Grassley said.
Senate Judiciary Committee: http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/
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