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Sunlight: New FOIA regulations are worse than reported

Our Sunlight friend John Wonderlich provides some in-depth context for the Department of Justice’s proposed new FOIA rules and from the blog title it’s easy to guess what those new rules look like — “Justice Department’s New FOIA Regulations: Still Worse than Reported”. Wonderlich’s colleague Daniel Schuman created a side-by-side comparison of current and proposed new regulations, to help illuminate the differences.

Instead of obfuscating regulations and making them more restrictive, DoJ lawyers should be trying to simplify and expand the scope of [w:FOIA] in line with the Obama Administration’s stated goals and Open Government Initiative. Otherwise, the rhetoric of “an unprecedented level of openness in government” and the establishment of “a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration” will ring hollow or worse.

The DOJ sent a letter to respond to Congressional concerns about their lying about the existence of records. The letter hardly paints a clear picture, but basically says that the DOJ will withdraw a section of the proposed regulations, but that their conduct won’t change, and that they’ll continue to mislead requesters about whether records exist or not.

Unmentioned in the letter, however, are all the steps backward on FOIA that the DOJ is proposing in their rules. In a package completely at odds with President Obama and Attorney General Holder’s public FOIA rhetoric, the new DOJ rules throw up new roadblocks and hurdles to requesters, and generally make it easier to deny requests. One has to wonder what possible motivation DOJ has for forcing elementary schools to pay for FOIA requests, where they used to qualify for fee waivers. Have elementary school students’ FOI requests become a burden?

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