New Smithsonian Head Pleads To Keep FOIA Exemption

September 10, 2008

The Smithsonian Institution, a truly unique federal agency, has long enjoyed a special exemption from the Freedom of Information Act. Last week its new Secretary, G. Wayne Clough, told the Associated Press he opposes a move in Congress to subject the Smithsonian to the same open-records law that applies to other executive branch agencies.

The Smithsonian argues that the secrecy is needed because the agency raises money from private donors. Some 70 percent of the Smithsonian's roughly $1 billion budget is paid for by the taxpayers.

The Smithsonian is the umbrella for the series of museums on the National Mall in Washington, DC, that are visited by many tourists every year. In the course of its research and public education activities, it covers many topics related to the environment and natural resources.

A bill (S 3276) introduced July 16 by Sen Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen Arlen Specter (R-PA) would apply FOIA to the Smithsonian. No action has been taken on the bill since it was introduced.