Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said on Friday that he would “take all necessary action” to block rules drafted by the Department of Justice, which would allow government agencies to deceive people about the existence of information in response to Freedom of Information Act Requests.
The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee informed Attorney General Eric Holder of his intentions in a letter that also requested more information and clarifications about the proposed legislation, known as section 16.6(f)(2).
Grassley said that he was against the proposed rule change in its current language because he believed that it would lead to an increase in FOIA related litigation — if those requesting information can’t trust a “no records” response — and would undermine the public’s trust in government.
“Proposed section 16.6(f)(2) stands in stark contrast to both the President’s and your prior statements about FOIA, transparency and open government,” Grassley said in his letter, citing Holder’s prior support of President Barack Obama’s Open Government Initiative — a memo issued by President on his first day in office, which called for “a presumption of disclosure” from government agencies dealing with FOIA requests.
The Republican senator also asked whether or not the proposal was necessary, citing the argument of transparency advocates that the government can already withhold information under current exemptions without neither lying nor explicitly acknowledging the existence of the information in question.
Grassley asked Holder to clarify when the government would be allowed to deceive those who filed FOIA requests, asked the Attorney General if it was currently doing so and whether or not the Justice Department was counseling other government agencies on FOIA deceptions. He also wanted to know how the DOJ intends to proceed with the proposed rule change.
The regulation was first proposed in 1987 as official policy by Edwin Meese, Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan, to avoid inadvertently revealing ongoing investigations.
Recent proposals by the Department of Justice would enshrine Meese’s policy as law.
Melanie Ann Pustay, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy, told the AP on Friday that the provision “has been implemented the same way for the 25 years it has been in existence,” and praised the Justice Department for reopening the public comment period on the proposed revision of FOIA regulations.