STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE JOHN E. MOSS
JUNE 20, 1966
| Mr. Speaker, our system
of government is based on the participation of the government, and as our
population grows in numbers it is essential that it also grow in knowledge
and understanding. We must remove every barrier to information about
- and understanding of - Government activities consistent with our security
if the American public is to be adequately equipped to fulfill the ever
more demanding role of responsible citizenship.
S. 1160 is a bill which will accomplish that objective by shoring up the public right of access to the facts of government, and inherently, providing easier access to the officials clothed with governmental responsibility. S. 1160 will grant any person the right of access to official records of the Federal Government and most important, by far the more important, is the fact that this bill provides for judicial review of the refusal of access and the withholding of information. It is the device which expands the rights of the citizens and which protects them against arbitrary or capricious denials.
Mr. Speaker, let me reassure those few who may have doubts as to the wisdom of this legislation that the committee has, with the utmost sense of responsibility, attempted to achieve a balance between a public need to know and a necessary restraint upon access to information in specific instances. The bill lists nine categories of Federal documents which may be withheld to protect the national security or permit effective operation of the Government but the burden of proof to justify withholding is put upon the Federal agencies.
That is a reasonable burden for the Government to bear. It is my hope that this fact, in itself, will be a moderating influence on those officials who, on occasion, have an almost proprietary attitude toward their own niche in Government.
Mr. Speaker, I must confess to disquiet at efforts which have been made to paint the Government information problems which we hope to correct here today in the gaudy colors of partisan politics. Let me now enter a firm and unequivocal denial that that is the case. Government information problems are political problems--bipartisan or nonpartisan, public problems, political problems but not partisan problems.
In assuming the chairmanship of the of the Special Government Information Subcommittee 11 years ago, I strongly emphasized the fact that the problems of concern to us did not start with the Eisenhower administration then in power nor would they end with that administration. At a convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors some 10 years ago, I said:
The problem I have dealt with is one which has been with us since the very first administration. It is not partisan, it is political only in the sense that any activity of government is, of necessity, political…No one party started the trend to secrecy in the Federal Government. This is a problem which will go with you and the American people as long as we have a representative government.
Let me emphasize today the Government Information problems did not start with President Lyndon Johnson. I hope, with his cooperation following our action here today, that they will be diminished. I am not so naïve as to believe they will cease to exist.
I have read stories that President Johnson is opposed to this legislation. I have not been so informed and I would be doing a great disservice to the President and his able assistants if I failed to knowledge the excellent cooperation I have received from several of his associates in the White House.
I am pleased to report the fact of that cooperation to the House today. It is especially important when we recognize how very sensitive to the institution of the Presidency some of these information questions are. Despite this I can say to you that no chairman could have received greater cooperation
We do have pressing and important Government information problems, and I believe their solution is vital to the future of democracy in the United States. The individual instances of governmental withholding of information are not dramatic. Again, going back to statements made early in my chairmanship of the Special Subcommittee on Government, I repeatedly cautioned those who looked for dramatic instances that the problems were really the day-to-day barriers; the day-to-day excesses in restriction, the arrogance on occasion of an official who has a propriety attitude toward Government. In fact, at the subcommittee's very first hearing, I said:
Rather than exploiting the sensational, the subcommittee in trying to develop all the pertinent facts and, in effect lay bare the attitude of the executive agencies on the issue of whether the public is entitled to all possible information about the activities, plans and the policies of the Federal Government.
Now 11 years later I can, with the assurance of experience, reaffirm the lack of dramatic instances of withholding. The barriers to access, the instances of arbitrary and capricious withhold are dramatic only in their totality.
During the last 11 years, the subcommittee has, with the fullest cooperation from many in Government and from representatives of every facet of the news media, endeavored to build a greater awareness of the need to remove unjustifiable barriers to information, even if that information did not appear to be overly important. I suppose one could regard information as food for the intellect, like a proper diet for the body. It does not have to qualify as a main course to be important intellectual food. It might be just a dash of flavor to sharpen the wit or satisfy the curiosity, but it is as basic to the intellectual diet as are proper seasonings to the physical diet.
Our Constitution recognized this need by guaranteeing free speech and a free press. Mr. Speaker, those wise men who wrote that document - which was then and is now a most radical document - could not have intended to give us empty rights. Inherent in the right of free speech and of free press is the right to know. It is our solemn responsibility as inheritors of the cause to do all in our power to strengthen those rights - to give them meaning. Our actions today in this House will do precisely that.
The present law which S. 1160 amends is the so-called public information section of the 20-year-old Administrative Procedure Act. The law now permits withholding of Federal Government records if secrecy is required "in the public interest" or if the records relate "solely to the internal management of an agency." Government information also may be held confidential "for good cause found". Even if no good cause can be found for secrecy, the records will be made available only to "persons properly and directly concerned". These phrases are the warp and woof of the blanket of secrecy which can cover the day-to-day administrative agenda of the Federal agencies.
Neither in the Administrative Procedure Act nor its legislative history are these broad phrases defined, nor is there recognition of the basic right of any person - not just those special classes "properly" and "directly concerned" - to gain access to the records of official Government actions. Above all, there is no remedy available to a citizen who has been wrongfully denied access to the Government's public records.
S. 1160 would make three major changes in the law.
First, The bill would eliminate "properly and directly concerned" test of who shall have access to public records, stating that the great majority of records shall be available to "any person". So that there would be undue burden on the operations of Government agencies, reasonable access regulations would be established.
Second, The bill would set up workable standards for the categories of records which may be exempt from public disclosure, replacing the vague phrases "good cause found", "in the public interest", and "internal management" with specific definitions of information which may be withheld.
Third, The bill would give an aggrieved citizen a remedy by permitting him to appeal to a U.S. district court if official records are improperly withheld. Thus, for the first time in our Government's history there would be proper arbitration of conflicts over access to Government documents.
S.1160 is a moderate bill and carefully worked out. This measure is not intended to impinge upon the appropriate power of the Executive or to harass the agencies of Government. We are simply attempting -- to enforce a basic public right -- the right to access to Government information. We have expressed an intent in the report on this bill which we hope the courts will read with great care.
While the bill establishes a procedure to secure the right to know the facts of Government, it will not force disclosure of specific categories of information such as documents involving true national security or personnel investigative files.
This legislation has twice been passed by the Senate, once near the end of the 88th Congress too late for House action and again last year after extensive hearings. Similar legislation was introduced in the House, at the beginning of the 88th Congress, by myself and 25 other Members of both political parties, and comprehensive hearings were held on the legislation by the Foreign Operations and Government Information Subcommittee. After the subcommittee selected the Senate version as the best, most workable bill, it was adopted unanimously by the House Government Operations Committee.
S. 1160 has the support of dozens of organizations deeply interested in the workings of the Federal Government - professional groups such as the American Bar Association, business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, committees of newspapermen, editors and broadcasters and many others. It has been worked out carefully with cooperation of White House officials and representatives of the major Government agencies and with the utmost cooperation of the Republican members of the subcommittee: Congressman Ogden R. Reid of New York; Congressman Donald Rumsfeld of Illinois; and the Honorable Robert P. Griffin of Michigan, now serving in the Senate. It is the fruit of more than 10 years of study and discussion by such men as the late Dr. Harold L. Cross and added to by scholars such as the late Dr. Jacob Scher. Among those who have given unstintingly of their counsel and advice is a great and distinguished colleague in the House who has given the fullest support. Without that support nothing could have been accomplished. So I take this occasion to pay personal tribute to Congressman William L. Dawson, my friend, my confidant and adviser over the years.
Among those Members of the Congress who have given greatly of their time and effort to develop the legislation before us today are two Senators from the great State of Missouri, the late Senator Thomas Henning, and his very distinguished successor, Senator Edward Long who authored the bill before us today.
And there has been no greater champion of the people's right to know the facts of Government than Congressman Dante B. Fascell. I want to take this opportunity to pay the most sincere and heartfelt tribute to Congressman Fascell who helped me set up the Special Subcommittee on Government Information and served as a most effective and dedicated member for nearly 10 years.
The list of editors, broadcasters, and newsmen and distinguished members of the corps who have helped develop the legislation over these 10 years is endless. But I would particularly like to thank those who have served as chairmen of Freedom of Information Committees and various organizations that have supported the legislation.
They include James Pope, formerly of the Louisville Courier-Journal, J. Russell Wiggins of the Washington Post, Herbert Brucker of the Hartford Courant, Eugene S. Pulliam of the Indianapolis News, Creed Black of the Chicago Daily news, Eugene Patterson of the Atlanta Constitution, each of whom served as chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Freedom of Information Committee, and John Colburn of the Wichita Eagle and Beacon who served as chairman of both the ASNE committee and the similar committee of the American Society of Newspaper Publishers.
Also Mason Walsh of the Dallas Times Herald, David Schulz of the Redwood City Tribune, Charles S. Rowe of the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star, Richard D. Smyser of the Oak Ridge Oakridger, and Hu Blonk of the Wenatchee Daily World, each of whom served as chairman of the Associated Press Managing Editors Freedom of Information Committee; V. M. Newton, Jr., of the Tampa Tribune, Julius Frandsen of the United Press International, and Clark Mollenhoff of the Cowles Publications, each of whom served as chairman of the Sigma Delta Chi Freedom of Information Committee, and Joseph Costa, for many years the chairman of the National Press Photographers Freedom of Information Committee. The closest cooperation has been provided by Stanford Smith, general manager of the American Newspaper Publishers Association and Theodore A. Serrill, executive vice president of the National Newspaper Association.
Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge the favorable vote of every Member of this body on this bill, S. 1160.