This week, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are poised to vote on their versions of the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Department of Defense has requested that the committees include language in the bill that would negatively affect the public’s ability to hold the Pentagon accountable.
A group of 31 organizations from across the political spectrum have come together to send a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of both committees in the House and Senate, as well as those committees with jurisdiction over FOIA, to raise concerns the provision language “undermine the FOIA, creating an unnecessary and overbroad secrecy provision at odds with FOIA’s goal of transparency and accountability to the public.”
The language would exempt the Pentagon from disclosing “information on military tactics, techniques, and procedures, and of military rules of engagement” from any requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, due to broadly defining key terms, the letter highlights that the provision would exempt Pentagon from disclosing much of the information and documents it creates-- a dangerous precedent for ”the largest executive branch agency with the largest discretionary budget.”
The proposed exemption language could allow the Pentagon “to conceal information about the military’s handling of sexual assault complaints; its interrogation and treatment of prisoners; its oversight of contractors; and other matters of compelling public interest,” the letter goes on to explain.
The groups also point out that the proposed exemption is being pushed through a large spending bill without the guidance or input from the relevant committees that oversee FOIA legislation.
The groups support the need to ensure information be withheld that is vital to protecting the safety of U.S. troops and military strategy, but do not believe this provision is the way to accomplish that. They call on the Pentagon to continue to work with the committees that have jurisdiction over FOIA to address concerns and determine if a new exemption is necessary.