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Amid Government Shutdown, Trump’s Interior Department Rolls Back Transparency

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Source:  Wildearthguardians.org

Rule Changes Meant to Stymie Public Interest Groups, Undermine Right to Know, Condone Government Secrecy

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UPDATE (12/28/2018):  Interior’s proposed rule was published in today’s Federal Register, you can access it here >>

Although Interior is asking for public comment until January 28, 2019, the agency is not actually capable of receiving and processing comments due to the government shutdown.

Despite a government shutdown, the U.S. Department of the Interior is proposing changes to its transparency regulations that threaten to make it more difficult for Americans to request and obtain records from the federal government.

In a proposed rule slated to be published tomorrow, Interior is calling for sweeping rule changes in order to, in its words, respond to “the unprecedented surge in FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests and litigation.”

Click here to view our annotated version of the most insidious provisions of the proposed rollbacks and how they completely undermine our federal transparency laws.

The proposal is a blatant attack on our democratic right to know.  The Freedom of Information Act is our nation’s bedrock transparency law and it’s meant to ensure Americans have the ability to know what their government is up to.

WildEarth Guardians uses the Freedom of Information Act extensively as we watchdog the Interior Department and other government agencies.  In fact, we post all records we obtain on our website so all Americans have access to information that would otherwise be unavailable.

It’s undeniable there has been a surge in Freedom of Information Act requests and litigation in response to the Trump Administration’s assault on transparency and the public interest.  In fact, the number of lawsuits filed under the Freedom of Information Act has hit record highs under Trump….

Yet Interior’s claim that this is a problem is belied by the fact that the Department utterly flouts the Freedom of Information Act and actively promotes a culture of secrecy, opaqueness, and unaccountability to the American public.

In our experience in dealing with the Interior Department under the Freedom of Information Act, we’ve found the agency regularly ignores deadlines, consistently finds ways to deny access to government records, purposefully drags its feet in responding to requests for information, and refuses to provide the resources and staffing needed to meet its legal obligations under federal transparency law.

To boot, among federal agencies, Interior is one of the worst in terms of making information available online.

It’s no wonder the Department gets sued. Yet rather than truly address the underlying lack of legal compliance and disrespect for transparency, Interior is instead proposing to change the rules.

Without a doubt, the proposed regulatory changes are an assault on transparency. Among the more insidious changes:

Currently, agencies have to honor all records requests, regardless of the amount of times and resources required to search for records. This reflects the fact that the Freedom of Information Act mandates full transparency and does not allow agencies to selectively censor information simply because they believe it would be “hard” to provide records.

This proposal would effectively condone footdragging and deny access to government information. The change would allow agencies to impose baseless “quotas” on information requests.

The Freedom of Information Act requires agencies provide records at no cost to organizations intending to use information to advance the public interest. Although the law requires fee waivers be granted liberally, Interior’s proposed changes would effectively turn the tables on public interest groups.

The new wording would set higher and nearly unattainable criteria, provide more discretion to deny fee waivers, and allow the Department to second-guess claims that information would serve a public interest.

For example, the proposal would allow Interior to deny fee waivers if it deems a request does not “concern discrete, identifiable agency activities, operations, or programs with a connection that is direct and clear, not remote or attenuated.”

This essentially lets the federal government deny fee waivers simply because it believes the requested information isn’t relevant.

Overall, the proposed rule aims to add more subjectivity into the Interior Department’s transparency regulations, clearly intending to give agencies more discretion to deny access to information and to deny fee waivers.

Overall, the changes appear to be blatantly contrary to the Freedom of Information Act. Click here to see our annotated version of the Department’s proposed rule with our comments on how it runs afoul of federal law.

Read the entire article HERE.

 

Bureau of Land Management looks to limit the number of FOIA requests organizations can file with the agency

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If the BLM would raise the livestock grazing fees, even just a little bit, they’d have plenty of money to be transparent. Also, there is little that can possibly “slow down the agency’s decision-making process” since it remains in the dark ages.

Source: muckrock.com

“Media requests only make up a fraction of the total requests agencies receive, but the new policy setting an organizational “cap” on requests could severely hamper the work of journalists – and concerned citizens – trying to use FOIA for its intended purpose.”

Recommendations appear to target media requests, and raise the cost of already prohibitive processing fees

Written by JPat Brown
Edited by Michael Morisy

According to records obtained by the Washington Post, the Bureau of Land Management is recommending new legislation that would limit the number of FOIA requests individuals and agencies could file with the agency, create stricter criteria for fee waivers, as well as increased fees for “search and redaction.”

For justification, BLM cites the agency’s limited resources, which in turn causes requests to “slow down the agency’s decision-making process.” In Financial Year 2016, the report states, the agency’s FOIA work cost $2.8 million, which was approximately .2 percent of the agency’s total budget of $1.3 billion that year.

As has been written about before, the vast majority of FOIA requests are by commercial entities. For some agencies, the percentage of commercial requests are as high as 95 percent.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE HERE.

OSHA Drops Fatality Data, Science Suppression Tracker and More

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SEJ WatchDog is a very interesting website, and I encourage you to read their articles. – Debbie

Source:  Society of Environmental Journalists

By Joseph A. Davis, WatchDog TipSheet Editor

1. OSHA Deep-Sixes On-the-Job Fatality Data

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration used to publish on its website a list of U.S. workers who died on the job. No more. Within days of a new Trump pick taking top office in August, much of it was gone.

OSHA fatality statistics matter to environmental reporters because the deaths sometimes result from exposure to toxic substances or other environmental hazards. For example, the toxic solvent methylene chloride is subject to EPA’s risk assessment program. It has also killed workers who use it.

During the Obama administration, OSHA published the fullest possible list of worker fatalities and related data. In August 2017, shortly after the Trump administration installed Loren Sweatt on a political appointment to a top leadership slot, OSHA started cutting back the worker fatality information it automatically published. That cutback had been requested by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Under the Trump data regime, workplace fatalities are listed only if the incident resulted in a citation (which causes a listing delay of about six months) and the workers’ names are not included. Moreover, OSHA only lists fatalities in states where OSHA oversees workplace safety (about half of the states do this for themselves). OSHA publishes the more limited listing of worker fatality information in a less prominent place on its website.

OSHA under Trump has also cut way back on issuing press releases noting OSHA enforcement actions.

Read the entire article HERE.

Wild Horse Freedom Federation’s White Paper offers new evidence on BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program never seen by Congress or the public

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photo by Carol Walker

by Debbie Coffey, V.P. and Dir. of Wild Horse Affairs, Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Wild Horse Freedom Federation issued a White Paper that has taken years of research, and offers new evidence on the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse & Burro Program that has never been seen by Congress or the public.

The Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, wants to cut the fat from the 2018 Budget by killing up to 46,000 wild horses and burros in BLM holding facilities due to “costs,” and to kill many thousands more on public lands because of a supposed “excess.”

However, Wild Horse Freedom Federation has done on-the-ground investigations of many BLM Long Term Holding facilities, with photos, videos and other evidence, proving that less than half of the horses that the BLM contractors, and the BLM, claimed were on long term holding facilities, were actually there.

One long term holding “pasture” contained a residential development. More

TS Radio: Whistleblowers! Tom Divine & The Whistleblowers Protection Act

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painyJoin us September 1, 2016 at 7:00 pm CST!

WB15:00 pm PST … 6:00 pm MST … 7:00 pm CST … 8:00 pm EST

Listen Live HERE!

Call in # 917-388-4520

Hosted by Marti Oakley

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whistleWhistleblowers! is presented in coordination with Marcel Reid and the Whistleblowers Summit in Washington D.C.

An upcoming appeals case may seriously threaten whistleblower protections.  Already retaliated against, threatened, harassed and intimidated regardless of the laws protecting them, whistleblowers may be in more danger than ever depending on how this appeals case turns out.

Our Guest:     Tom Devine is co-founder and legal director of the Government Accountability Project. Since 1979, Tom has assisted over 7,000 whistleblowers in defending themselves against retaliation and in making real differences on behalf of the public. In 2015 he won the first U.S. Supreme Court test of the Whistleblower Protection Act. Tom has been a leader in the campaigns to pass or defend 33 major national or international whistleblower laws. Tom has authored numerous books, including The Corporate Whistleblower’s Survival Guide: A Handbook for Committing the Truth, which won the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair “International Business Book of the Year” award. Tom has been selected as one of Washington DC’s top employment lawyers for the last seven years by Washingtonian magazine.

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