Govt Will Appeal FOIA Ruling on NRO Budget Docs

09.22.06 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The U.S. Department of Justice said this week that it will seek to overturn a federal court ruling that required the National Reconnaissance Office to process a request from the Federation of American Scientists for release of NRO budget documents.

In a July 24, 2006 decision (pdf), Judge Reggie B. Walton had ruled that the NRO’s refusal to process the FAS Freedom of Information Act request was unlawful.

Judge Walton ordered the intelligence agency to move forward with the request, which was limited to unclassified budget records. The NRO promptly advised FAS that it would comply with the order.

But instead, the Justice Department indicated (pdf) on September 20 that it would challenge the decision in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

The action is consistent with the Bush Administration’s restrictive Freedom of Information Act policy, which encourages agencies to withhold information whenever possible and promises to support them when they do.

“When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions,” Attorney General John Ashcroft told executive branch agencies in the October 12, 2001 policy.

In other FOIA news, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Cornyn and Leahy that would make certain procedural improvements in the FOIA.

Senator Leahy itemized the proposed changes in a September 21 news release.

While the Cornyn-Leahy changes would be welcome, none of them could substitute for an official commitment to open government or a rational disclosure policy.

Nor would they dissuade the Justice Department from working to overturn judicial decisions in favor of FOIA plaintiffs like that of Judge Walton.