It’s been 13 months since I filed a request with the Education Department under the Freedom of Information Act, looking for information related to the appointment of a Commission on Reading Research to update the work undertaken by the National Reading Panel a decade ago. I lost faith that my request would be fulfilled a while back, particularly in light of the preliminary response I got, which included more than 80 blank pages. All the contents of the documents I requested were redacted under an exemption that allows federal officials to withhold information deemed deliberative. The law does not allow redaction of all the contents of documents that include such deliberations, but only of the specific information covered by the exemption.
In FOIA requests I’ve made over the last several years, the Education Department has been wont to using the exemption rather liberally. Many documents I’ve requested have come back to me with huge chunks of text-redacted pages missing.
Will such restrictive interpretations of the federal law continue in the new administration? Well, President Barack Obama has said he will change the way FOIA is interpreted, according to this story on msnbc.com.
“He said he was directing agencies that vet requests for information to err on the side of making information public — not to look for reasons to legally withhold it — an alteration to the traditional standard of evaluation.”
This is more of a return to the standard that ruled FOIA fulfillment during the Clinton administration, thanks to a 1993 memorandum by then Attorney General Janet Reno.
The msnbc.com report goes on: “Just because a government agency has the legal power to keep information private does not mean that it should,” Obama said.
“For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city,” Obama said.
Ok, now to figure out what to FOIA first. Any ideas?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.