The Justice Department said Thursday that it has decided to withdraw a controversial provision to proposed transparency regulations that would have allowed government agencies to mislead people about the existence of information in response to Freedom of Information Act Requests.
Both Republicans and Democrats opposed the provision. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the DOJ last Friday that he would “take all necessary action” to block the drafted rule change.
In response, Ronald Weich, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs, said in a letter that the department not include Section 16.6(f)(2) when issuing final regulations.
Weich said that the department only wants to exclude sensitive information from FOIA requests “in the most transparent manner possible.”
“If the proposed regulations can be improved in these respects, we will work to improve them,” he said, adding that the Justice Department had received a number of public comments on the proposed regulation.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised the decision to drop Section 16.6(f)(2) in a news release shortly after Weich sent his response to Grassley.
“For five decades, the Freedom of Information Act has given life to the American value that in an open society, it is essential to carefully balance the public’s right to know and government’s need to keep some information secret,” he said. “The Justice Department’s decision to withdraw this proposal acknowledges and honors that careful balance, and will help ensure that the American people have confidence in the process for seeking information from their government.”
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.
The recent DOJ proposal would have enshrined Meese’s policy in regulations.
Melanie Ann Pustay, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy, told the AP last 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.