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Americans for Prosperity Foundation urges Armed Services committees to protect congressional, public oversight of Department of Defense

Apr 16, 2020 by AFP

Americans for Prosperity’s sister organization, Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF), cosigned a letter along with Open The Government, Society of Professional Journalists, American Civil Liberties Union, and more than a dozen other organizations, urging members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to reject the Defense Department’s proposal for greater exemptions when disclosing information in response to FOIA requests.

This proposal, the letter explained, is overly broad, unnecessary, and likely to conceal critical information from the public about military affairs.

According to the Defense Department, it is asking for the expanded exemption because of concerns about giving potential adversaries advance knowledge of certain information, but this concern is already addressed by FOIA, which exempts “properly classified” national defense information from disclosure.  Further, the department’s proposed language could be used to conceal information about the military’s interrogation and treatment of prisoners; its handling of sexual assault complaints; its oversight of contractors; and other matters of compelling public interest.

The Department of Defense, and all federal agencies, already have broad and proper authority to withhold classified information under FOIA exemption one, and to withhold unclassified information under a variety of other statutes.

Our community shares the goal of ensuring that information that needs to be withheld to protect the safety of our troops and strategy of our military operations is not disclosed, but the Pentagon’s current proposal is not the way to do so. We cannot support the proposed language, but we encourage the Defense Department to work with the committees of jurisdiction over FOIA to address the outstanding concerns and accomplish those mutual goals without codifying language that could be easily abused to keep the public and Congress in the dark about our military.

The letter concludes with a suggestion that the Defense Department work to address their outstanding concerns within the FOIA process, without codifying language that could conceal critical information about the military from Congress and the public.

AFPF partners with other civil liberty and open government organizations to make it easier for all Americans to access information about their government and hold power to account. Our work includes education on the importance of keeping the public connected to the COVID-19 response, evolutions in how federal agencies are retaining employee communications in a digital age, and more.

Read the full letter here.