Successful fight to stop farm bill secrecy — for now

Senator Patrick Leahy and open government groups have stopped at least for now the Grassley amendment that would bar disclosure of basic phone directory information for owners and operators of livestock and poultry processing facilities and farms.  We explained our concerns about the provision quickly, other groups weighed in as well, and Senator Leahy’s worked diligently to explain the ramifications of this seeming milquetoast provision to his colleagues, and it became clearer that the proposal had problems.  We appreciate the delay to afford open government groups the opportunity to work with Senators Grassley and Boxer to find a better approach that upholds the public’s interest in a transparent and accountable government.

Supporters had planned late Wednesday to add it to the farm bill by unanimous consent, and after Senator Leahy objected and expressed his concerns, it appeared there would be a floor vote.  Even had the amendment passed, it would have at least put senators on the record supporting or opposing the amendment. Instead, the Senate went into its Memorial Day recess all next week and expects to address the issue when it returns and continues consideration of the farm bill.

Sen. Leahy has repeatedly shown his commitment to defending FOIA on nitty-gritty issues, and we appreciate his commitment to government transparency and his staff’s hard work and responsiveness in defending the public’s right to know what its government is doing.

As we have said repeatedly, proposals to exempt certain information from disclosure come up regularly in Congress.  They cut into FOIA on a piecemeal basis and collectively do great damage to the underlying principle that government activities and operations ought to be transparent to the public while protecting privacy, trade secrets, national security and other specific interests. (For a 3-minute review of the problem and what Congress can do about it, view this 3-minute talk I gave to a room full of congressional staff during at a transparency event organized by the Advisory Committee on Transparency.

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