An uproar has occurred from journalists and advocacy groups after the U.S Department of the Interior proposed changes to how they will manage and accept requests through the Freedom of Information Act on Dec. 28. The primary purpose of the proposal is to alleviate the workload for the FOIA staff of the Interior Department after FOIA requests in a single fiscal year rose 30 percent from 6,428 in 2016 to 8,350 in 2018. The proposed changes would give the department permission to limit the number of requests that can be submitted each month from an individual or group. It would also give the department permission to deny requests that are burdensome or vague, or that require the department to do extensive work to locate, review, or arrange for inspection of a vast amount of material. Many wonder under what standards requests are being analyzed in order to decided what is deemed burdensome or vague. Many feel it is unfair that the proposed changes give the department the power to decided which requests they will choose to accept or deny. “Congress should set the FOIA rules. Agencies are already delegated far too much rulemaking power. What that does is create inconsistency across the government, and it erodes the rule of law,” said Diane Katz, a senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation, in an interview with Bloomberg News.
The United States Department of Justice defines the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act as “To provide the public with the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.” (United States Department of Justice, 2018). Requests filed through the Freedom of Information Act are one of the main tools that journalists and other advocacy groups use in order to stay up to date on government activity, and many critics to the proposal fear that this method of journalistic investigation will become obsolete if these changes are put into affect. “With this proposed change, the check on how our government works and the public’s ability to see how decisions are made will go away,” said Jayson O’Neil, deputy director of the Western Values Project, in an interview with CNN news.
Speculations have arose from the public due to the suspicious timing between the discovery of Ryan Zinke, the previous secretary for the Department of Interior, resigning from his position and when the proposal of the changes to the Freedom of Information Act was announced. Ryan Zinke has been in the news quite frequently lately for accusations of criminal activity and unethical practices of using his power for personal gain instead of for the good of the public. Many believe this suspicious timing is the Trump administration’s way of dusting the scandals and accusations of criminal activity done by Ryan Zinke under the rug. “After Zinke’s scandal plagued, corruption-marred tenure, Interior needs to be more transparent instead of advocating for changes to FOIA that could mask more corruption,” said Lisa Rosenberg, executive director of Open the Government advocacy group.
The proposal has drawn over 46,000 comments from journalists and advocacy groups, and lawsuits are likely to arise from these individuals and groups if these changes become in affect. A final decision on this matter is expected to be announced in the days ahead.
Henderson, G. (2019, January 4). Interior’s Proposed FOIA Limits May Be illegal,
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Wallace, G. (2019, January 29). Interior Department’s FOIA Efficiency Proposal
Panned as Less Transparent. CNN Politics. Retrieved from