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Breaking down the Department of the Interior’s proposed changes to FOIA. COMMENTS DUE 1/28/2019

Russ Kick of AltGov2 is again on the FOIA case. This time he’s analyzed the Department of Interior’s proposed changes to their FOIA regulations (and helpfully cobbled together the current regulations with DoI’s proposed changes). Comments on the proposed changes can be submitted electronically by JANUARY 28, 2019. Here’s the current regulations and the proposed rules changes posted to regulations.gov.

Here’s my own take on this. Department of Interior’s reason for updating its FOIA regulations is that they’ve had “Exponential increases in requests and litigation.” From Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 to FY 2018, incoming FOIA requests to the Department increased 30 percent (from 6,428 to over 8,350). So it would make sense that they’d want to update their regulations to deal with the exponential increase in requests. But instead of requesting more staff to deal with the increase in requests or look for ways to proactively release more records, their proposed changes:

  1. look to expand the definition and reasoning of “burdensome” requests that can be denied. “The bureau will not honor a request that requires an unreasonably burdensome search or requires the bureau to locate, review, redact, or arrange for inspection of a vast quantity of material.”
  2. place monthly limits on the number of requests per month from frequent requesters.
  3. Make it more confusing and difficult to submit requests (eg it’s unclear whether requests will be accepted via email in the new regs).
  4. No longer refer or forward mistakenly directed requests. “A request to a particular bureau or a particular bureau component (for example, a request addressed to a regional or field office) will be presumed to seek only records from that particular bureau or particular component and will not be forwarded to another bureau or component.”
  5. Change “time limits” to “time frames,” making the time to fulfill requests more squishy and undefined.

There’s probably more buried in this request. Check out Russ’ analysis at MuckRock. And PLEASE send comments to Department of Interior about their proposed changes. Comments on the proposed changes can be submitted electronically by JANUARY 28, 2019.

The Department of the Interior wants to drastically change how it deals with Freedom of Information Act requests. To do that, it had to make a proposal, published in the Federal Register, that the public can comment on for 30 days. In theory, it has to consider this input before finalizing any changes to its FOIA regulations.

That proposal was published on December 28th, 2018, which is 1) a Friday 2) in the middle of the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day 3) during a government shutdown. Any one of those is a tried-and-true way to slip something past the public, but all three simultaneously? That is the trifecta of bureaucratic underhandedness.

So, now that the holidays are behind us for another year, let’s take a look at Interior’s FOIA wishlist, which is primarily designed to hobble requesters and solidify the department’s power. (To make it easier to see the many changes Interior wants, I’ve created a redline version of their currently FOIA regulations, with added language in bold and deletions in strikethrough, which you can see here.)

via Breaking down the Department of the Interior’s proposed changes to FOIA • MuckRock.

EPA’s model for rulemaking in the digital age

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Rulemaking Gateway, which “provides information to the public on the status of EPA’s priority rulemakings” could be a model for tracking rulemaking, according to an article in NextGov:

  • EPA Web site paving the way to transparency, by Aliya Sternstein, NextGov (02/19/2010).

    EPA has committed to releasing rulemaking plans earlier than in the past. As soon as an agency regulatory policy officer determines it is appropriate to start developing a rule, information will be posted on the gateway, officials said. A regulation could appear on the site months or even years before a file is created on the governmentwide rule-tracking site Regulations.gov.

It has user-friendly searches and is closely tied to Regulations.gov.

Guide of the Week: Administrative Law

A fair amount of news coverage has revolved around the regulatory activity of the Obama Administration — whether it is to keep Bush era regulations or to propose new regulatory schemes. Today’s Guide of the Week from the ALA GODORT Handout Exchange Wiki will help you keep the process straight and help you find regulations past and present:

Administrative Law: The Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations (Hui Hua Chua, Michigan State University, 2008)

Hui Hua’s excellent guide starts out at the beginning, by explaining what a regulation is. Then she links people to four separate places that explain the complex federal regulatory process. Chances are at least one will make sense to you. Then she moves on to provide tips on searching for regulations online (1996-present) and in print.

I’ve worked with documents for well over a decade, but this guide taught me something new (or helped me to remember). You can get from the US Code to the Code of Federal Regulations(CFR) by using the index volume of the CFR, labeled “CFR Index and Finding Aids.” The “Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules” to link a US Code Section to a section of the CFR. She also tells us what I did know, that sections of the CFR will state their statutory authority, linking us back to the US Code.

Hui Hua concludes her guide with ways to keep with proposed regulations. If your work or study touches on federal regulation in any way, you’ll want to take a close look at this guide. And if you’re a librarian with a guide or handout of your own, please link it to the Handout Exchange.

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