Critics say Interior Department proposal would undermine public’s access to information

The Denver Post: The Interior Department, the nation’s largest land manager and overseer of vast natural resources, has proposed changes to the way it handles requests for information that critics say could undermine the public’s right to find out about what the federal government is doing.

The Interior Department, the nation’s largest land manager and overseer of vast natural resources, has proposed changes to the way it handles requests for information that critics say could undermine the public’s right to find out about what the federal government is doing.

A notice published in the Federal Register on Dec. 28 proposes allowing Interior officials to limit how many requests individuals or groups can submit per month under the Freedom of Information Act — FOIA. Other changes would give officials more discretion in deciding whether to charge for records, require requests be more specific and prohibit “an unreasonably burdensome search.”

“Agencies do have leeway to detail their own FOIA procedures. But they certainly don’t have leeway to make regulations that contradict the statute. In my view, there are parts of the proposed changes that cross the line,” said Margaret Kwoka, an associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law who specializes in the Freedom of Information Act.

The Interior Department did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. It said in the Federal Register notice that an “unprecedented surge” in requests is behind the proposed revisions. Overall requests under the Freedom of Information Act rose 30 percent from fiscal 2016 to 2018, increasing to 8,350 from 6,428. Filings with the Interior secretary’s office jumped 210 percent, the department said.

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