DOI PROPOSES CHANGES TO FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT COMMENTS
Mr. Daniel Jorjani
Principal Deputy Solicitor
Department of the Interior
Subject: Department of the Interior Proposal to Change FOIA Policy
Dear Mr. Jorjani,
On behalf of The Cloud Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, and our hundreds of thousands of supporters throughout the United States, we would like to thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Department of the Interior proposal for proposed FOIA policy changes.
The proposed changes are of serious concern. This seems to be an attempt by the Department of the Interior to stymie FOIA requests, especially those of a time-sensitive nature, from activists, advocates and news sources whose work may be critical of governmental actions or policy. Changes of this nature will result in an untenable lack of transparency between the American government and its citizens and will violate the nature and intent of the Freedom of Information Act itself.
CONCERNS ON PROPOSED CHANGES
We understand that FOIA requests have grown exponentially under the current federal administration’s tenure. That this administration has stirred such contentiousness and concern in the American public is, in our opinion, directly related to the rise in FOIA requests. The citizens of this nation are determined to keep a watchful eye on their government, as it is not only their right but their duty to do so. The Freedom of Information Act is one of the main vehicles by which the American people, private citizens and public organizations alike, are afforded the ability to exercise that duty and right.
We also understand that the unprecedented numbers of FOIA requests – and the increased numbers of lawsuits as a result of not responding to those requests – means change is necessary. We support the Department’s efforts to increase the efficiency with which it processes FOIA requests, while maintaining the equity, transparency and thoroughness of the process. We oppose any changes that will make it more difficult for citizens/organizations to submit a FOIA request, complicate the application process, or prevent citizens/organizations from receiving a fulfilled request for information. This is, after all, their legal right.
It seems that, beyond streamlining the FOIA request process, the Department needs additional staff. Since the Department itself states that the increase in litigation cases – likely costing thousands of tax-payer dollars – is a result of lack of response to the litigants’ initial FOIA requests, the solution would be to respond to those requests before the parties file suit. While this may require an initial expenditure to hire staff, the expense will level out naturally as litigation decreases proportionally.
While it is clear that changes in process are needed, it should not come at the cost of citizen rights. In a society where we are afforded freedom of the press and the inalienable right to hold our government accountable, the timely fulfillment of requests for public information is essential. To infringe upon these rights either arbitrarily or by way of an agenda to prevent stakeholders from obtaining critical information is unlawful, unjust and un-American. America is a representative republic and it is our right and duty to hold our government accountable to us, the citizens they represent.
We are very grateful for the opportunity to offer our comments and we appreciate your willingness to listen to our thoughts. America has a rich and complex history; we have fought hard for the rights and freedoms we enjoy. We ask that you very carefully consider any changes to the FOIA policy that would prevent American citizens from fully exercising those rights.
Please feel free to call us with any further questions about our comments.
The Cloud Foundation