On December 3 the Department of Transportation joined the growing list of federal agencies that agreed to release their report to the National Archives on recommendations for records management in full. The email sent to us by Transportation included PDF versions of the release letter, the memo accompanying the report, and the report (all available below).
As luck would have it, I got to talk about my request and this project with Transportation’s FOIA officer at a recent meeting of the American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP), a nongovernmental organization that brings together FOIA professionals from the government and the requester community (the report had landed in my email in-box prior to this discussion). As we expected when we first formulated this project, Transportation’s initial impulse was to withhold at least some of the material under exemption b5, which protects inter- and intra- governmental information. B5 exists at least in part to make sure that people within the government feel free to offer a full range of advice and opinions prior to a decision being made. Before making a final determination, however, the FOIA officer assessed whether the release of its recommendations to NARA would actually have a chilling effect on their willingness to provide input in the future. Transportation ultimately decided that it would not, and released the report in full.
The analysis Transportation described going through before applying the B5 exemption is exactly the kind of action all agencies need to go through in order to live up to the current Administration’s FOIA policy. As some of you may remember, a few months after taking office, Attorney General Holder directed agencies to use their discretion in applying FOIA exemptions. We hope all agencies are following in Transportation’s footsteps.