Nobody has ever explained why Congress refuses to release the tax-funded explainers produced by the Congressional Research Service. They are a gold standard for journalists needing quick background. Here are some recent CRS reports relevant to environmental journalists, helpfully released by the Federation of American Scientists.
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Legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, a key journalist's tool, died in the final hours of the do-nothing 113th Congress — but hopes remain that the coming 114th Congress could pass the bipartisan package. The bill's Senate passage was delayed by a "hold" placed on it by retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), whose reasons were not clearly explained but were apparently due to banking interests' fears.
There is still a chance that Congress could pass legislation strengthening the Freedom of Information Act before it adjourns. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a fix-FOIA bill (S 2520) November 20, 2014, setting up the possibility of full-Senate floor action. The Society of Environmental Journalists has urged Congress and the President to support such legislation.
There is still hope (and perhaps time) for this Congress to pass a bill strengthening the Freedom of Information Act. The Senate Judiciary seems likely to mark up a revised FOIA reform bill Thursday, November 20, 2014. After that will come a push to bring it to the Senate floor and eventually reconcile with a FOIA bill already passed by the House.
The Society of Environmental Journalists wrote President Barack Obama October 23, 2014, urging him to take a strong position supporting legislation that would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Bipartisan FOIA improvements may be one of the few pieces of legislation with a chance to clear the lame duck 113th Congress before control shifts to Republicans in 2015.
Of the 457 investigations closed by the Interior Department's Inspector General's office last year, the office released public reports on only three. Not only were many of the reports withheld or redacted, but even the list of investigations was redacted before it was released.
The coming lame-duck session is the last opportunity for Congress to enact a bipartisan bill that would make modest improvements in the Freedom of Information Act. Will transparency trump gridlock when Congress returns after the November 4, 2014, midterm elections? That remains to be seen.Topics on the Beat:
Three major journalism groups held a joint convention in Chicago September 15-17, 2014, which included a panel discussion on Obama administration secrecy. News industry leaders used the occasion to point out that the Obama administration's deeds and practices did not match its claims of transparency.
An environmental group is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for denying a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information on the impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on whooping cranes, piping plovers and other endangered species. Photo: Piping plover/USFWS.
More evidence of Congress' ineffectiveness comes in its ongoing failure to keep its secrets actually secret. Its official policy is to keep the Congressional Research Service from publicly releasing the handy explainers it produces at taxpayer expense. Thanks again to the Federation of American Scientists' Government Secrecy Project for unauthorized publication of these reports.Topics on the Beat: