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I urge you, therefore, in considering the role of the Freedom of Information Act in allowing the public disclosure of certain kinds of business information, to bear in mind all of the consequences, both good and bad, not merely those that might originally have been intended. One of those consequences, I would be so bold as to suggest, is that in some cases the FOIA serves as a device that improves the competitive functioning of the economy both by encouraging more vigorous competition and by fostering the dissemination and production of technological knowledge.
The Administration of the Act
My final point relates to the way in which the Freedom of Information Act is administered. As you are no doubt well aware, the FOIA is looked on in many parts of the government as an unwated stepchild. Agencies are often reluctant to allocate the resources necessary to comply fully with the mandate of the Act to what they consider at best a secondary function. Assignment to FOIA compliance is perceived by many government personnel as a career dead end. Agencies have often given little thought to the manner in which they organize themselves to deal with FOIA matters. The resulting structure is in many cases the product of historical accident rather than careful planning. Personnel who manage FOIA matters are too often poorly-trained and poorly-motivated. Under these conditions it is hardly surprising that the performance of many agencies in FOIA matters is less than ideal. Statutory deadlines are missed, documents that should be released are not, documents that should not be released are, and a great deal of time and money is wasted in disputation and litigation.
There is no way to eliminate all of the problems that are likely to arise under the FOIA by mere administrative change. There may, however, be a means of reducing them somewhat.
As you are not doubt aware, one of the consequences of the "Age of Information" of which I spoke earlier is that businesses, particularly large ones, are paying increasing attention to the problems of information management or information resources management. The field is evolving rapidly, and there is no general consensus as to what exactly "information management" means. It would, however, be generally agreed that it involves a comprehensive examination of the manner in which an organization collects, assembles, stores, communicates, and otherwise deals with the information necessary to its functioning.
Last year Congress, aware of this trend and its importance to government, took a major step toward putting this emerging philosophy into practice in the federal government when it passed
the Paperwork Reduction Act. Although the legislative history contains references to the Freedom of Information Act, the statute, itself, does not mention it. I would be so bold as to suggest that that was an error. If there is any law that is central to the federal government's information activities, it is the FOIA. It seems less than entirely logical that a statute designed to coordinate these activities should omit the FOIA from its coverage.
From the point of view of information resources management, one of the principal features of the Paperwork Reduction Act is that it requires each agency to appoint a single official who is responsible for the coordination and management of the agency's information activity. Nothing would be more appropriate than that this official be given responsibility for the agency's compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. It is interesting to note that in the Justice Department's survey alluded to earlier, a number of agencies reported that they found that the Act had the effect of improving the qualify of agency records, access to records, and record retention standards. It seems only sensible that a statute that has these effects should fall under the aegis of an office within each agency whose responsibility it is to improve the way in which the agency manages its information re
Not only would this be likely to benefit the information management function but it should improve the manner in which the agency handles FOIA matters. Instead of being a stepchild, FOIA compliance would become a part of an integrated information management program. This would enable the agency to develop a staff of trained professionals to deal with FOIA and other information problems who would no longer see dealing with the FOIA as a career dead end but would see it as a career opportunity. Compliance with the FOIA along with other information management activities would take its place among the more important functions of the agency rather than being given the low priority from which it now suffers in many agencies. From a broader perspective, there would be more coordination among agencies on FOIA matters and, eventually, we could expect to see the present uneven patchwork of regulations and administrative practices replaced with a more or less standard system that varied only in its details from one agency to another.
As the government enters the Age of Information, it should proceed facing forward with its eyes open rather than backing blindly into the coming period of rapid change in the way in which information is used and managed. There is no better place to start than with the Freedom of Information Act.
Information on Competitors (Research grant and
Information for Marketing and Developing New
Availability of Procurement Information and
Disclosure of Information Under FOIA Broader
D. R & D
Expensive Methodologies Available for Cost of
Public Interest Groups
Accessibility of Information Promotes Public
Greater Public Awareness of Laws, Rules, Regulations,
Improved Employee Awareness and Accountability
Regarding Record Development and Maintainance
Ise of Public Disclosure Room and Index for
Acquainting F.mployers with Agency Activities
Enhanced Public understanding and Appreciation
of, and Confidence in, Agency llork
Enhanced Public Awareness of Agency Programs,
Especially by Agency Clients
Greater Public Participation in Agency Decision
Increased competition among, and Retter Proposals
from, Bidders for Agency Contracts
Mr. ENGLISH. Our next panel of witnesses will consist of Mr. David Jacobs on behalf of the Americans for Democratic Action, Mr. John Shattuck and Mr. Allan Adler of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Mr. Paul Hoffman on behalf of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation.
We want to welcome you, gentlemen, and, if we may, we will recognize Mr. Shattuck first.
STATEMENT OF JOHN H. F. SHATTUCK, LEGISLATIVE DIREC
TOR, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, ACCOMPANIED BY ALLAN ROBERT ADLER, LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL
Mr. SHATTUCK. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee.
We are very grateful for this opportunity on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union to discuss an issue of profound importance to us and I know to the subcommittee as well and the country.
I have a prepared statement which I will summarize, particularly in light of the hour.
Mr. ENGLISH. I might say at this point that the written testimony of all the witnesses will be included in the record, without objection. Any of you who would like to summarize, please feel encouraged to do so.
Mr. SHATTUCK. Following my summary, Mr. Chairman, I would like to call on my colleague, Mr. Adler, to briefly state for the subcommittee some very important research that my organization has underway which we are going to shortly provide to the subcommittee in this area.
Over the last 15 years or so, the American Civil Liberties Union has worked with the Congress and the executive branch, as well as in the courts, to implement the first amendment right of individuals in our society to know what their Government is doing.
This right, of course, has achieved its greatest expression in the Freedom of Information Act, and the ACLU is proud to have played a supporting role throughout the years in its enactment, implementation, and amendment.
I should say in that connection that I have appeared personally many times before this and other subcommittees since 1972, in connection with oversight and discussion of issues concerning the Freedom of Information Act.
We now look back through 7 years of experience under the amended FOIA, and we welcome these hearings as an occasion to publicly reaffirm the importance of the FOIA and, frankly, to find out how it is being implemented from one agency to another.
As you, Mr. Chairman, have suggested in some of your questions this morning, that is an extremely important issue-perhaps a threshold issue to the subcommittee.
Some officials in the administration are urging the Congress to narrow the statute and narrow it substantially. They assert that it causes harm to the national security by impairing the Government's ability to gather foreign intelligence and restrict access to classified information. They also assert that the act interferes with law enforcement by permitting the disclosure of investigative information and the identities of confidential sources.