NEFAC Criticizes Proposed U.S. Dept. of Interior FOIA Regulations

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently criticized proposed updates to U.S. Dept. of Interior regulations concerning the Freedom of Information Act, calling many of the updates “flatly inconsistent or incompatible” with the law.

The changes “would harm journalists’ ability to gather and report information to the public about the actions of the Department and its personnel,” wrote NEFAC, other open government advocates and a coalition of news organizations in a Jan. 28 letter.

The letter — drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — addressed several concerns with the proposed updates. They included:

•  Eliminating the public’s ability to submit FOIA requests by email.
•  Excusing the Department from its statutory duties under FOIA.
•  Placing additional requirements on public record requesters.
•  Imposing impermissible and unwarranted requirements for requesters seeking fee waivers.
•  Unlawfully modifying definitions of terms in FOIA.

“The Proposed Rule comes at a time of heightened public interest in the Department,” the groups explained. “For instance, last year then-Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke received widespread public attention when a variety of environmental restrictions were lifted by the Department under his leadership.”

The proposal “impermissibly deviates in a number of ways from the express language of FOIA and caselaw interpreting it, and attempts to illegally limit the statutory rights of requesters, including members of the news media,” the groups added.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.