VerDate 0ct 09 2002
The bill also would have Congress find, and this is a quote, ‘‘the American people firmly believe that our system of government must itself be governed by a presumption of openness.’’ I wish that an act of Congress could make that so. In my experience, many— too many—people do not believe that at all and are willing to let the government determine what we, and therefore they, ought to know.
But the freer the flow of information, the better the job we do of delivering it, the more likely we can meet the standard on which the bill quotes Justice Hugo Black. ‘‘The effective functioning of a free government like ours depends largely on the force of informed public opinion. This calls for the widest possible understanding of the quality of government service rendered by elected and ap- pointed officials or employees.’’
The Freedom of Information Act gets straight to that point. We use it to get data on the quality of government service. In a perfect world, that would be an aim shared by those who cover government and those who run it, and sometimes it is. The information flows because the people who control it realize that it belongs to the peo- ple. Too frequently, it is not, sometimes for valid reasons of secu- rity and privacy, on which you will hear no argument from us, but more often, it happens because when people get in the government, they tend to get proprietary and protective.
As an AP veteran, I take pride in objectivity. We are concerned what is happening now, what is happening during this administra- tion, and we should be, but I do not limit my observations to the Bush years. This is not new business.
I remember writing a story that angered Lyndon Johnson when he was President. He wasn’t satisfied with the way the PR people in his executive branch were getting out his chosen message, so he called in their supervisors and he told them that if they didn’t do better, he would replace every one of them with a high school sen- ior from Johnson City, Texas. The White House wouldn’t comment on my story, but as soon as it hit the wire, they flatly denied it. It just wasn’t so. And immediately after that, they set about trying to find out who leaked it to me.
While restrictions on information have tightened in this adminis- tration, I believe that whoever had been in office, regardless of party, when those terrorists destroyed the World Trade towers, the administration would have erred on the side of security. That makes this legislation especially vital in a difficult time. There is a need to reinforce the public’s need to know.
It was encouraging to see that Attorney General Gonzales has told you that he will examine Justice Department policies and practices under FOI. It will be more encouraging should he amend the restrictive line set by his predecessor in the memo that essen- tially flipped the policy from favoring disclosure to one in which the presumption was that the Justice Department would defend any decision to withhold information.
As I said, there is a valid need for secrecy in government oper- ations, but the presumption should be in favor of openness, and much of the information pried loose by pressure of FOI action has nothing to do with security. For example, the AP found that the NIH, National Institutes of Health, researchers were collecting roy-
09:04 Nov 08, 2005