Friday, December 16, 2005

Another blow to freedom

Another blow to freedom
Capitol Hill
Dec 16, 2005, 06:15

As his second term winds down, President Bush naturally begins to contemplate how history will judge him and now perhaps realizes that history will give him low marks for his administration's almost obsessive culture of secrecy.

This week he issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to streamline their procedures for releasing records under the Freedom of Information Act and to appoint chief FOIA officers to see that the changes are carried out.

The order is fated to be ineffective. It would have served the public and the cause of open government better if he had instructed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to rescind a memorandum to the agencies from his predecessor, John Ashcroft.

That memo still defines the Bush administration's approach to FOIA. When in doubt, the agencies were told, they should err on the side of secrecy, the opposite of the law's intent. And records were to be released to the public "only after full and deliberate consideration of the institutional, commercial, and personal privacy interest that could be implicated by disclosure of the information." In other words, the agencies were to aggressively seek out reasons not to disclose information....