Thursday, December 08, 2005

Feds' failure to name names violates FOIA, suit says

A lawsuit filed in federal court in New York this week alleges that the U.S. government is unlawfully withholding information it normally provides the public about some 900,000 of its civilian employees, including employees working for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Brought by Public Citizen on behalf of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group at Syracuse University, against the Office of Personnel Management, the lawsuit charges that the agency violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to provide the information or explain its refusal.

Since 1989, TRAC has posted a database on the Internet with the name, work location, salary and job category of all federal civilian workers except those in some law enforcement agencies. The data are often used by reporters and government watchdog groups to monitor policies and detect waste or abuse.

The government first began providing the public with detailed information about all its employees in a register published almost 200 years ago. The first name in the first register, authorized by Congress in 1816, was President James Madison.

Further reading:

1 comment:

Michaela Jackson said...

This seems to be an example of the government acting as though they are above the law. Clearly, under the Freedom of Information Act, the government is obligated to make public the information regarding agencies such as those mentioned: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Refusal to provide information regarding civilian employees of these agencies to the public should be an alarming red flag. Public Citizen and Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse have the legal advantage in their lawsuit, and if their request is not granted, it will be because the government is in bold defiance of the law, not because they are not obligated by the law to release the information.

Cases like this call into question where the interests of the government truly lie. They do not seem particularly interested in informing the public of their proceedings, and this raises suspicions that perhaps the government has something to hide. This is an issue that must be settled, because without a transparent government, true democracy cannot be achieved. The legislation to bring about this transparency is already in place in the form of the FOIA, it simply needs to be enforced.