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The balances have too long been weighted in the direction of executive discretion, and the need for clear guidelines is manifest. I am convinced that the answer lies in a clearly delineated and justifiable right to know.
This bill is not perfect, and some critics predict it will cause more confusion without really enhancing the public's right to know. In my opinion, it is at least a step in the right direction and, as was stated in an editorial in the Monday, June 13, issue of the Wichita Eagle :
"It's high time this bill became law. It should have been enacted years ago. Everyone who is interested in good government and his own rights must hope that its passage and the President's approval will be swift."
Mr. JOELSON. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support this legislation which protects the right of the public to information. I believe that in a democracy, it is vital that public records and proceedings must be made available to the public in order that we have a fully informed citizenry. I think that the only time that information should be withheld is where there are overriding considerations of national security which require secrecy, where disclosure might result in an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, impede investigation for law enforcement purposes, or divulge valuable trade or commercial secrets.
Mr. ROSENTHAL. Mr. Speaker, as a member of the House Committee on Government Operations, I am particularly anxious to offer my strongest support for this measure, S. 1160, and praise for its cosponsor, the gentleman from California [Mr. Moss). I would also like to offer my thanks to our distinguished chairman, the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. DAWSON] for his firm leadership in bringing this measure before the House.
In S. 1160, we have a chance to modernize the machinery of Government and in so doing, further insure a fundamental political right. Democracies derive legitimacy from the consent of the governed. And consent is authoritative when it is informed. In assuring the rights of the citizenry to know the work of its Government, therefore, we provide a permanent check and review of power. And, as many of us on both side of the aisle have pointed out, the continuous growth of Federal powers-particularly that of the executive branchcan be cause for general concern.
It is the disposition of bureaucracies to grow. And frequently, they cover and conceal many of their practices. Institutions as well as people can be ruled by self-interest.
Accordingly, the House Government Operations Committee, and its Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and Government Information, have given particular attention to the information policies of our executive agencies. Through extensive study, the committee has found important procedural loopholes which permit administrative secrecy and thus threaten the public's right to know. Continued vigilance in this area has, for example, revised the notorious housekeeping statute which allowed agencies to withhold certain records. Similar pressure from Congress resulted in President Kennedy's and President Johnson's limitation of the use of Executive privilege in information policy.
The measure before us today continues the search for more open information procedures. For 20 years, the Administrative Procedure Act, in section III, has been an obstacle rather than a means to information availability. The section has usually been invoked to justify refusal to disclose. In the meantime, members of the public have had no remedy to force disclosures or appeal refusals. Our entire information policy, therefore, has been weighed against the right to know and in favor of executive need for secrecy.
I believe s. 1160 takes important steps to rectify that imbalance. Certain ambiguities in section III of the Administrative Procedure Act are clarified. Thus, the properly and directly concerned test access to records is eliminated. Records must now be available, in the new language, to "any person.” Instead of the vague language of "good cause found" and "public interest," new standards for exemptable records are specified. And, perhaps most important, aggrieved citizens are given appeal rights to U.S. district courts. This procedure will likely prove a deterrent against excessive or questionable withholdings.
This legislation, Mr. Speaker, should be of particular importance to all Members of Congress. We know, as well as anyone, of the need to keep executive information and practices open to public scrutiny. Our committee, and particularly our subcommittee, headed by our energetic colleague from California, has put together proposals which we believe will reinforce public rights and democratic review.
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Mr. POFF. Mr. Speaker, it was my privilege to support S. 1160 today designed to protect the right of the American public to receive full and complete disclosures from the agencies of their Government.
Today, as never before, the Federal Government is a complex entity which touches almost every fiber of the fabric of human life. Too often, the overzealous bureaucrat uses his discretionary power to blot out a bit of intelligence which the people have the right to know. This is true not only with respect to military activities for which there may, on occasion, be a valid reason for withholding full disclosure until after the execution of a particular military maneuver, but also in the case of strictly political decisions in both foreign and domestic fields.
Thomas Jefferson once said that if he could choose between government without newspapers or newspapers without government, he would unhesitatingly choose the latter. The press, in performing its responsibility of digging out facts about the operation of the giànt Federal Government should not be restricted and hampered. Yet there are some 24 classifications used by Federal agencies to withhold information from the American people. When Government officials make such statements as “a government has the right to lie to protect itself” and “the only thing I fear are the facts," it is obvious that the need for collective congressional action in the field of public information is acute. In the unique American system, the people need to know all the facts in order that their judgments may be based upon those facts. Anything less is a dilution of the republican form of government.
Mr. BENNETT. Mr. Speaker, legislation of this type has been long needed. The delay, however, is easy to understand because it is a difficult subject in which to draw the precise lines needed without overstepping into areas that might be dangerous to our country. It is my belief that the measure before us does handle the matter in a proper and helpful manner and I am glad to support it.
Mr. CLANCY. Mr. Speaker, a number of important duties and engagements in Cincinnati prevent me from being on the House floor today. However, if it were possible for me to be present today. I would vote for the Freedom of Information Act, s. 1160.
The problem of Government secrecy and news manipulation has reached appalling proportions under the current administration. Both at home and abroad, the credibility of the U.S. Government has repeatedly been called into question.
Not only has the truth frequently been compromised, but in some instances Government spokesmen have more than distorted the facts, they have denied their existence. This shroud of secrecy and deception is deplorable. The man in the street has a right to know about his Government, and this includes its mistakes.
The Cincinnati Enquirer has, in two editorials on the subject of the public's right to know the truth about the activities of its Government, called for passage of the legislation we are considering today. I include these editorials with my remarks at this point because I believe they will be of interest to my colleagues :
(From the Cincinnati (Ohio) Enquirer, June 15, 1966)
LET'S OPEN UP FEDERAL RECORDS "Next Monday the House of Representatives is scheduled to come finally to grips with an issue that has been kicking around official Washington almost since the birth of the Republic-an issue that Congress thought was solved long ago. The issue, in briefest form, is the public's right to know.
Most Americans probably imagine that their right to be informed about what their government is doing is unchallenged. They may wonder about the need for any legislation aimed at reaffirming it. But the fact of the matter is that the cloak of secrecy has been stretched to conceal more and more governmental activities and procedures from public view. Many of these activities and procedures are wholly unrelated to the nation's security or to individual Americans' legitimate right to privacy. They are matters clearly in the public realm.
The legislation due for House consideration next Monday is Senate Bill 1160, the product of a 13-year study of the entire problem of freedom of information directed by Representative John E. Moss (R., Calif.). The bill has already won Senate approval, and only an affirmative House vote next Monday is necessary to send it to President Johnson's desk.
All of the 27 Federal departments and agencies that have sent witnesses to testify before the House subcommittee that conducted hearings on the bill have opposed it. One complaint is that the issue is too complex to be dealt with in a single piece of legislation.
But Representative Moss feels--and a Senate majority obviously agree with him—that the right of Federal officials to classify government documents has been grossly misused to conceal errors and to deny the public information it is entitled to have.
The bill makes some clear and necessary exemptions-national defense and foreign policy secrets, trade secrets, investigatory files, material collected in the course of labor-management mediation, reports of financial institutions, medical files and paper designed solely for the internal use of a governmental agency.
"Most important, perhaps, the bill would put on the governmental agency the burden of proving that a particular document should be withheld from public view. As matters stand today, the person who seeks a particular document must prove that it is being improperly withheld; the Moss bill would require that the Federal agency involved prove that its release would be detrimental.
"It may be easy for rank-and-file Americans to imagine that the battle Representative Moss has been leading for more than a decade is a battle in the interests of the Nation's information media. But the right of a free press is not the possession of the publishers and editors; it is the right of the man in the street to know. In this case, it is his right to know about his government-its failures and errors, its triumphs and its expenditures.
"The House should give prompt approval to Senate Bill 1160, and President Johnson should sign it when it reaches his desk.”
[From the Cincinnati (Ohio) Enquirer, May 29, 1966)
THE RIGHT TO KNOW "It is easy for many Americans to fall into the habit of imagining that the constitutional guarantees of a free press are a matter of interest and concern only to America's newspaper publishers. And perhaps there are still a few publishers who entertain the asme notion.
"In reality, however, the right to a free press is a right that belongs to the public. It is the main in the street's right to know-in particular, his right to know what his servants in government are doing. Unhappily, however, it is a right whose preservation requires a battle that is never fully won. For at every level of government, there are officials who think that their particular province should be shielded from public scrutiny.
"Another important stride in the right direction came the other day when the House Government Operations Committee unanimously approved a freedom of information bill (Senate Bill 1160). The bill is an attempt to insure freedom of information without jeopardizing the individual's right of privacy. It exempts nine specific categories of information-including national security, the investigative files of law enforcement agencies and several others. But it clearly reaffirms the citizen's right to examine the records of his government and the right of the press to do the same in his behalf.
"Senate Bill 1160 is the culmination of a 10-year effort to clarify the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, which is so broad that it permits most Federal agencies to define their own rules on the release of information to the press and the public.
"The House should press ahead, accept the recommendations of its committee and translate Senate Bill 1160 into law."
Mr. EPWARDS of Alabama. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of S. 1160 which is effectively the same as my bill, H.R. 6739, introduced March 25, 1965.
This measure should have been approved and signed into law long ago as a means of giving the American citizen a greater measure of protection against the natural tendencies of the bureaucracy to prevent information from circulating freely.
I am hopeful that in spite of the President's opposition to this bill, and in spite of the opposition of executive branch agencies and departments, the President will not veto it.
This measure will not by any means solve all of our problems regarding the citizen's right to know what his Government is doing. It will still be true that we must rely on the electorate's vigorous pursuit of the information needed to make self-government work. And we will still rely on the work of an energetic and thorough corps of news reporters.
As an example of the need for this bill I have previously presented information appearing on page 12600 of the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD for June 8. It shows that
one Government agency has made it a practice to refuse to yield information which is significant to operation of the law.
This kind of example is being repeated many times over. In a day of swiftly expanding Government powers, and in a day on which thoughtful citizens the country over are concerned with the encroachment of Government into the lives of all of us, the need for this bill is clear.
Mrs. REID of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, as the sponsor of H.R. 5021, one of the companion bills to S. 1160 which we are considering today, I rise in support of the public's right to know the facts about the operation of their Government. I rise, also, in opposition to the growing and alarming trend toward greater secrecy in the official affairs of our democracy.
It is indeed incongruous that although Americans are guaranteed the freedoms of the Constitution, including freedom of the press, there is no detailed Federal statute outlining the orderly disclosure of public information so essential to proper exercise of this freedom. Yet, the steady growth of bigger government multiplies rather than diminishes the need for such disclosure and the necessity for supplying information to the people. Certainly no one can dispute the fact that access to public records is vital to the basic workings of the democratic process, for it is only when the public business is conducted openly, with appropriate exceptions, that there can be freedom of expression and discussion of policy so vital to an honest national consensus on the issues of the day. It is necessary that free people be well informed, and we need only to look behind the Iron Curtain to see the unhappy consequences of the other alternative.
The need for a more definitive public records law has been apparent for a long time. We recognize today that the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, while a step in the right direction, is now most inadequate to deal with the problems of disclosure which arise almost daily in a fast-moving and technological age-problems which serve only to lead our citizens to question the integrity and credibility of their Government and its administrators.
But while I do not condone indiscriminate and unauthorized withholding of public information by any Government official, the primary responsibility, in my judgment, rests with us in the Congress. We, as the elected representatives of the people, must provide an explicit and meaningful public information law, and we must then insure that the intent of Congress is not circumvented in the future. The Senate recognized this responsibility when it passed s. 1160 during the first session last year, and I am hopeful that Members of the House will overwhelmingly endorse this measure before us today.
I do not believe that any agency of Government can argue in good faith against the intent of this legislation now under consideration, for the bill contains sufficient safeguards for protecting vital defense information and other sensitive data which might in some way be detrimental to the Government or individuals if improperly released. S. 1160 contains basically the same exceptions as recom-. mended in my bill-H.R. 5021. In sponsoring H.R. 5021, I felt that it would enable all agencies to follow a uniform system to insure adequate dissemination of authorized information, thereby removing much of the confusion resulting from differing policies now possible under existing law.
Government by secrecy, whether intentional or accidental, benefits no one and, in fact, seriously injures the people it is desgined to serve. This legislation will establish a much-needed uniform policy of disclosure without impinging upon the rights of any citizen. S. 1160 is worthy legislation, and it deserves the support of every one of us.
Mr. RHODES of Arizona. Mr. Speaker, at a recent meeting of the House Republican policy committee a policy statement regarding S. 1160, freedom-ofinformation legislation, was adopted. As chairman of the policy committee, I would like to include at this point in the RECORD the complete text of this statement:
REPUBLICAN POLICY COMMITTEE STATEMENT ON FREEDOM OF IN FORMATION
LEGISLATION, 8. 1160 "The Republican Policy Committee commends the Committee on Government Operations for reporting S. 1160. This bill clarifies and protects the right of the public to essential information. Subject to certain exceptions and the right to court review, it would require every executive agency to give public notice or to make available to the public its methods of operation, public procedures, rules, policies, and precedents.
"The Republican Policy Committee, the Republican Members of the Committee on Government Operations, and such groups as the American Newspaper Publishers Association, the professional journalism society Sigma Delta Chi, the National Editorial Association and the American Bar Association have long urged the enactment of this legislation. Due to the opposition of the Johnson-Humphrey Administration, however, this proposal has been bottled up in Committee for over a year. Certainly, information regarding the business of the government should be shared with the people. The screen of secrecy which now exists is a barrier to reporters as representatives of the public, to citizens in pursuit of information vital to their welfare, and to Members of Congress as they seek to carry out their constitutional functions.
"Under this legislation, if a request for information is denied, the aggrieved person has a right to file an action in a U.S. District Court, and such court may order the production of any agency records that are improperly withheld. So that the court may consider the propriety of withholding, rather than being restricted to judicial sanctioning of agency discretion, the proceedings are de novo. In the trial, the burden of proof is correctly placed upon the agency. A private citizen cannot be asked to prove that an agency has withheld information improperly for he does not know the basis for the agency action.
"Certainly, as the Committee report has stated: “No Government employee at any level believes that the 'public interest' would be served by disclosure of his failures or wrongdoings ..." For example, the cost estimates submitted by contractors in connection with the multimillion-dollar deep sea "Mohole" project were withheld from the public even though it appeared that the firm which had won the lucrative contract had not submitted the lowest bid. Moreover, it was only as a result of searching inquiries by the press and Senator KUCHER (R., Cal.) that President Kennedy intervened to reverse the National Science Foundation's decision that it would not be "in the public interest" to disclose these estimates.
“The requirements for disclosure in the present law are so hedged with restrictions that it has been cited as the statutory authority for 24 separate classifications devised by Federal agencies to keep administrative information from public view. Bureaucratic gobbledygook used to deny access to information has included such gems as: “Eyes Only," "Limited Official Use," "Confidential Treatment," and “Limitation on Availability of Equipment for Public Reference." This paper curtain must be pierced. This bill is an important first step.
"In this period of selective disclosures, managed news, half-truths, and admitted distortions, the need for this legislation is abundantly clear. High officials have warned that our Government is in grave danger of losing the public's confidence both at home and abroad. The credibility gap that has affected the Administration pronouncements on domestic affairs and Vietnam has spread to other parts of the world. The on-again, off-again obviously less-than-truthful manner in which the reduction of American forces in Europe has been handled has made this country the subject of ridicule and jokes. "Would you believe ?" has now become more than a clever saying. It is a legitimate inquiry.
"Americans have always taken great pride in their individual and national credibility. We have recognized that men and nations can be no better than their word. This legislation will help to blaze a trail of truthfulness and accurate disclosure in what has become a jungle of falsification, unjustified secrecy, and misstatement by statistic. The Republican Policy Committee urges the prompt enactment of S. 1160."
Mr. SCHMIDHAUSER Mr. Speaker, I believe approval of S. 1160 is absolutely essential to the integrity and strength of our democratic system of government because as the Federal Government has extended its activities to help solve the Nation's problems, the bureaucracy has developed its own form of procedures and case law, which is not always in the best interests of the public. Under the provisions of this measure, these administrative procedures will have to bear the scrutiny of the public as well as that of Congress. This has long been overdue.
Mr. Roush. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this freedom of information bill. I felt at the time it was acted upon by the Government Operations Committee, of which I am a member, that it was one of the most significant pieces of legislation we had ever acted upon. In a democracy the government's business is the people's business. When we deprive the people of knowledge of what their government is doing then we are indeed treading on dangerous ground. We are trespassing on their right to know. We are depriving them of the opportunity to examine critically the efforts to those who are chosen to labor on their behalf. The