17 September 2009

How Not to Build Trust

UPDATE: 9/18, apparently Treasury has now released the material with the redacted passages unredacted.

This week's tempest in the climate policy teapot involves a Freedom of Information request from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a group opposed to action on climate change, which reveals previously-unseen documents from the U.S. Department of Treasury. Apparently the documents simply restate existing information and are in fact dated. Nonetheless, they have provoked an outcry among those opposed to action on climate change and the usual mudslinging. Setting aside the substantive issues, does anyone see any problems with the manner in which the information was released, as shown in the partial image of the document shown below (PDF)?

Memo to politicians: if you have nothing to hide, then don't hide anything.


Drainage said...

Keep up the good work! It is great to see that your work is getting mainstream media exposure.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

Ah...but obviously they do have something to hide, don't they? The assumption that the blacked out portion of this memo would equal the 1% of GDP mentioned in a different memo, is just that... an assumption, and an unwarranted one at that. Considering they are forecasting 100-200 billion in revenue it seems more reasonable to assume the blacked out portion is greater than that (as 1% GDP would be in the 150 billion range.) (If the memo showed a clear "profit" at the end of the day, why black it out?)

Just imagine how it would look if the blacked numbers looked more like those of the NAM (which forecasted costs of roughly $258-345 billion a year.) Awkward!!

And given the Obama administration claim to "openess" I think this looks bad. Particularly since I cant see how this information would fit into the normal exemptions from FOI requests, namely:

1. national defense or foreign policy
2. related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency
3. specifically exempted from disclosure by statute
4. trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential
5. inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency
6. personnel and medical files
7. records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes
8. contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions
9. geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells...

I just cant see how a report detailing the costs of pending legislation fits any of the above.

Given the fact that the details that have changed do not concern the COSTS of the legislation but instead deal with the way the auctions are conducted, it isn't entirely fair to conclude the old reports are moot.

Sharon F. said...

This seems like a fair explanation of the deliberative process privilege for FOIA (discussed previously on this blog)
Slide 11 may be pertinent here.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

Ah Sharon, but if this was done because it was a draft, NONE of it had to be released. If they merely witheld information they thought would be politically damaging, well then they cant complain when people say they are hiding something. (Especially when it is as obvious as the excerpt above.)

Sharon F. said...

Yes, Iconic, that is what is confusing about this. If they claimed b5 for the whole document it seems like it would have been cleaner, as you suggest.
This doesn't appear to have a good explanation. Too bad the redactor is not on this blog.

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