Clarifying And Protecting The Right Of The Public To Information - Donald Rumsfeld

Submitted by Sarah Gonzales on November 22, 2005 - 9:54am. ::

Statement Of The Honorable Donald Rumsfeld

JUNE 20, 1966, Page 13653

Mr. RUMSFELD: The gentleman's comments are most pertinent.  Certainly it has been the nature of Government to play down mistakes and to promote successes.  This has been the case in the past administrations.  Very likely this will be true in the future.

There is no question but that S. 1160 will not change this phenomenon.  Rather, the bill will make it considerably more difficult for secrecy-minded bureaucrats to decide arbitrarily that the people should be denied access to information on the conduct of Government or on how an individual Government official is handling his job.

Mr. Speaker, the problem of excessive restrictions on access to Government information is a nonpartisan problem, as the distinguished chairman, the gentleman from California (Mr. Moss) has said.  No matter what party has held the political power of Government, there have been attempts to cover up mistakes and errors.

 Significantly, S. 1160 provides for an appeal against arbitrary decisions by spelling out the ground rules for access to Government information, and, by providing for a court review of agency decisions under these ground rules, S. 1160 assures public access to information which is basic to the effective operation of a democratic society.

The legislation was initially opposed by a number of agencies and departments, but following the hearings and issuance of the carefully prepared report -- which clarifies legislative intent -- much of the opposition seems to have subsided.  There still remains some opposition on the part of a few Government administrators who resist any change in the routine of government.  They are familiar with the inadequacies of the present law, and over the years have learned how to take advantage of its vague phrases.  Some possibly believe they hold a vested interest in the machinery of their agencies and bureaus and there is resentment to any attempt to oversee their activities either by the public, the congress or appointed Department heads.

 But our democratic society is not based upon the vested interests of Government employees.  It is based upon the participation of the public who must have full access to the facts of Government to select intelligently their representatives to serve in Congress and in the White House.  This legislation provides the machinery for access to government information necessary for an informed, intelligent electorate.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege for me to be able to speak on behalf of Senate bill 1160, the freedom-of-information bill, which provides for establishment of a Federal public records law.

I believe that the strong bipartisan support enjoyed by S. 1160 is indicative of its merits and of its value to the Nation.  Twice before, in 1964 and 1965, the U.S. Senate expressed its approval of this bill.  On March 30, 1966, the House Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and Government Information favorably reported the bill, and on April 27, 1966, the House Committee on Government Operations reported the bill out with a do-pass recommendation.  It remains for the House of Representatives to record its approval and for the President to sign the bill into law.

I consider this bill to be one of the most important measures to be considered by Congress in the past 20 years.  The bill is based on three principles:

First, that public records, which are evidence of official government action, are public property, and that there should be a positive obligation to disclose this information upon request.

Second, this bill would establish a procedure to guarantee individuals access to specific public records, through the courts if necessary.

Finally, the bill would designate certain categories of official records exempt from the disclosure requirement.

I believe it is important also to state what bill is not.  The bill does not affect the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of Government.  The report and the legislation itself specifically point out that this legislation deals with the executive branch of the Federal Government in its relationship to all citizens, to all people of this country.

The very special relationship between the executive and the legislative branches is not affected by this legislation.

As the bill and the report both state:

Members of the Congress have all of the rights of access guaranteed to "any person" by S. 1160, and the Congress has additional rights of access to all Government information which it deems necessary to carry out its functions.