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PCJF Opposes Trump’s Dept of Interior Plan to Obstruct Access to Public Information

Challenges proposed FOIA rules as creating “Obstructive Shell Game” and a “Political Gatekeeping Maneuver.”

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund filed formal comment with the Department of Interior opposing its proposed new FOIA rules that would “restrict, burden and in some instances, eliminate public access to government records.” In one of his last acts before resigning in disgrace last month after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests exposed his misconduct, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke placed a former advisor to Charles and David Koch in charge of FOIA requests, a position that is usually held by career staff not political appointees. The proposed rule changes followed swiftly afterwards, quietly issued during the government shutdown.

Noting that “public records requests have been pivotal in exposing actions and conduct that would have otherwise been concealed from public view including high level conflicts of interest and possible corruption,” the PCJF’s comment states, “While the Agency, and its top officials, may wish to conceal their actions from public oversight of whether such actions conform to the law and the Agency’s obligations as steward of our public lands, such desires are inconsistent with both the FOIA and democracy. “

The PCJF’s formal comment identifies key changes in the Department’s proposed rules, explaining how each is unjustified or violates the Freedom of Information Act. The PCJF stated, “The Agency appears to be making the public’s right to understand what its government is up to into a shell game,” and called certain proposals “a political gatekeeping maneuver.”