Smithsonian Adopts FOIA-Like Policies

November 20, 2008

The Smithsonian Institution is gradually beginning to change policies that have made its meetings and records less open to public scrutiny than other federal entities. SI's Board of Regents held its first public meeting in 162 years November 17, 2008.

The Smithsonian's archipelago of museums and research facilities covers many topics related to the environment and natural resources. The Institution, established by Congress in 1846 as a unique public/private partnership, is today federally funded and administered, but it still receives private donations.

For an institution devoted to the "increase and diffusion of knowledge," however, it has been unusually secretive. Its secrecy practices have drawn fire as it asserted privacy rights for animals at the National Zoo and shielded questionable use of some $2 million in funds by its recently resigned secretary. A bill pending in the Senate would remove the Smithonian's FOIA exemption entirely — but the institution has begun implementing its own FOIA-like policy already.