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FRINFORMSUM 6/30/2011

July 1, 2011

June 13, 1971: The New York Times begins to publish the Pentagon Papers.

As planned, on June 13th the Pentagon Papers were officially released. Unexpectedly, the eleven redacted words from the official government release were declassified at the 11th hour. Alex Daverede of the National Archives wrote, “John Prados [of the National Security Archive] will most likely find the ‘declassified’ occurrence of the page pretty quickly [and] will parade this discovery like a politician on the 4th of July.” As a result, the Pentagon Papers are available, in full, and a new mystery presents itself: what were the eleven formerly-redacted words? The agency responsible for their classification is unknown and Sheryl Shenberger, head of the National Declassification Center, has commented that such disclosure is “unnecessary.”

This week the New York Times ran an article surveying the last several months of news on FOIA. The article touches on highlights such as the 2011 Knight Open Government Survey, FOIA.gov, the Faster FOIA Act, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s saferproducts.gov. The tricky minefield of getting documents from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac concerning the housing collapse is also discussed. Despite the great public interest in the records kept by Fannie and Freddie, the Federal Housing Finance Agency has been reluctant to release records since they are corporate, semi-private documents albeit under government stewardship now.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has revealed some inefficiency in its FOIA practices in an unusually embarrassing manner. After releasing documents in response to a FOIA request, HUD asked the requester to send back the documents. Typically, a poorly-run FOIA office will not release enough information, but, in this case, just the opposite occurred.

The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at the National Archives and Records Administration works to smooth over the disputes that arise between FOIA requesters and federal agencies. One of the tools used by OGIS is their “FOIA Ombudsman” blog. The blog was started in early March, just in time for Sunshine Week 2011, and is already packing a fair number of informative articles on FOIA in general, and how FOIA disputes are addressed (and hopefully resolved).

The nonprofit Civil Society Institute (CSI) has filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Energy. The CSI is seeking the release of the second half of a report ordered by Congress in 2005 on the relationship between U.S. water supplies and energy needs. The first half of the report has been available since 2006. CSI claims that increasing scarcity of water supplies and increasing demand for energy makes this document, as mandated by Congress, “an essential piece of information for energy policy making.” CSI cites some interesting statistics in making their case for transparency in energy policy decisions: the U.S. electric sector uses 42 trillion gallons of water every year, which is more than 200 billion gallons per day. This yearly water usage is roughly equivalent to half of the yearly water flow in the Ohio River.

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