VerDate 0ct 09 2002
Mr. TAPSCOTT. Among Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s probably lesser-known marks of distinction in his career was an important role that he played back in 1966 as one of the cosponsors of the Freedom of Information Act, and he made a remark during the floor debate on that Act that I think has a great deal of rel- evance to us today and to what you and Senator Leahy are doing.
He said, and I quote, ‘‘This legislation was initially opposed by a number of agencies and departments, but following the hearings and issuance of the carefully prepared report, which clarifies legis- lative intent, much of the opposition seems to have subsided. There still remains, however, some opposition on the part of a few govern- ment administrators who resist any change in the routine of gov- ernment. They are familiar with the inadequacies of the present law and over the years have learned how to take advantage of its vague phrases,’’ unquote.
I think what Rumsfeld described in 1966 is a problem that we are dealing with still today, and in one sense, we shouldn’t be sur- prised by it because we have a career workforce precisely to insu- late them from improper, inappropriate political influences. But one of the problems that comes along with that insulation is pre- cisely the delays and other problems that we are dealing with here today in freedom of information.
And I say that—I should point out that I am the fourth genera- tion in my family to have worked in the government. My father was a civil servant in Oklahoma and my grandfather and great- grandfather were mail carriers in East Texas, Senator, so I have a great deal of respect for government employees. But they are not exempt from human nature, and unfortunately, when it comes to the Freedom of Information Act, the path of least resistance too often results in a misadministration of the Act.
I believe this process accounts for most of the problems that we have, and this was illustrated by a survey in 2003 by the National Security Archive, which I think is one of the best surveys that has been done in this area. They found, among other things, that, quote, ‘‘the agency contact information on the web was often inac- curate, response times largely failed to meet the statutory stand- ard, only a few agencies performed thorough searches, including e- mail and meeting notes, and the lack of central accountability at the agencies resulted in lost requests and inability to track progress.’’ They summarized the results of that survey by saying that the system is a system in, quote, ‘‘disarray.’’ I think that was a very accurate description.
Having spent nearly two decades in this town as an ink-stained wretch in the journalism world and having filed more FOI requests than I care to remember over the years, I wasn’t surprised by these results. When you ask a typical journalist, and I am sure that my colleague, Walter Mears, will agree, why they don’t use the FOI more frequently, the reply will invariably be something along the lines of, well, it is going to take too long, they won’t give me what I need and what I ask for anyway, and we will just have to court and that will be a lot of expense and my editor will say, what is the point?
I think the OPEN Government Act addresses all of the major problems that have been spotlighted over the years by people on
09:04 Nov 08, 2005