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Project on Government Oversight

POGO Joins Letter Voicing Concern About Public Access to Critical Information in Transportation Safety Board Reauthorization Act of 2010

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October 20, 2010

The Honorable John Rockefeller
Chair, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
254 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable James Oberstar
Chair, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
2165 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchinson
Ranking Member, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
560 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable John Mica
Ranking Member, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
2163 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairmen and Ranking Members,

On behalf of the undersigned organizations concerned with government openness and accountability, we are writing to urge you to not include in the final version of the National Transportation Safety Board Reauthorization (NTSB) Act of 2010 (HR 4714, S 2768) two provisions in Section 3(d) of the Senate-passed version of the bill, S. 2768, that unduly limit the public’s ability to access critical information.

The Senate-passed bill would needlessly expand categories of information that may be withheld under exemption b(3) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for records related to ongoing Board investigations. There is no reason to offer the NTSB greater protection beyond the existing FOIA exemptions that provide protection for ongoing investigations, and represent a proper balancing of interests. Indeed, given the critical safety issues the NTSB investigates, the public’s interest should be paramount. We understand that NTSB has expressed concerns that fulfilling public requests for information takes time and resources. Expanding categories of information withhold-able under our oldest public disclosure law is not, however, an appropriate way to handle resource issues, and is not in the spirit of the law. House-passed version of the bill, HR 4714, contains no such expansion.

The Senate-passed language also excessively expands protections from public disclosure for commercial or financial information submitted to the Board. Under FOIA’s existing b(4) protections, all confidential commercial or financial information is exempt. By omitting the word "confidential," the Senate language denies the public access to any and all commercial or financial information, even if the information is not a trade secret. Section 6 of the House-passed version of the bill makes clear that Congress does not intend to exempt all commercial or financial information from public release.

We urge you to not include the exemption for ongoing investigations and to support the language in Section 6 of HR 4714 narrowing the exemption for commercial and financial information. We welcome an opportunity to discuss this issue with you further. To reach our groups, you or your staff may contact Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, at 202-332-6736 or pmcdermott@openthegovernment.org.

Sincerely,

American Association of Law Libraries National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression  Northern California Association of Law Libraries (NOCALL)
American Library Association  National Freedom of Information Center
American Society of News Editors  OMB Watch
Association of Research Libraries OpenTheGovernment.org
Bill of Rights Defense Committee Progressive Librarians Guild
Center for Media and Democracy Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Defending Dissent Foundation Radio Television Digital News Association
Essential Information Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
First Amendment Coalition Society of Professional Journalists
Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas Sunlight Foundation
Government Accountability Project (GAP) Tennessee Coalition for Open Government
iSolon.org Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University
Legal Publication Services U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG)
Liberty Coalition Washington Coalition for Open Government
Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information  

cc: Senator Patrick Leahy
Representative Edolphus Towns

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