By: DEBRA GERSH HERNANDEZ
HE AMERICAN SOCIETY of Newspaper Editors has asked presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Bob Dole to answer a five-part questionnaire about their views on the Freedom of Information Act.
The questions were conceived by ASNE’s FoI committee and asked by Houston Chronicle editor Jack Loftis.
Neither candidate directly responded on whether the law should be amended to include the National Security Council, which a federal appeals court has ruled is exempt from FoIA.
Dole said, “It seems good public policy to give greater deference to keeping material classified when it touches on matters pertaining to the security of our country and those matters which, if disclosed, may place lives at risk or jeopardize endeavors for securing peace.”
A spokesman for the president told ASNE that the issue, which has been in the courts for a very long time, has finally been spoken to “definitively. The court’s judgment must obviously be adhered to, and we should see how this judgment works in practice before it is subject to re-examination.”
ASNE also asked the candidates to address the issue of lengthy delays in handling FoIA requests, and what they would do to remedy the situation.
Clinton’s spokesman pointed to passage of legislation that “establishes procedures for an agency to discuss with requesters ways of tailoring large requests to improve responsiveness,” and that helps agencies deal with FoIA requests by extending the response time from 10 days to 20 days.
The presidential candidates also were asked whether they would extend to other agencies Attorney General Janet Reno’s policy of including FoIA handling in job performance ratings.
Clinton supports “steps to speed up the process by which federal agencies comply with FoIA requests,” his spokesman said, and will explore the issue with Reno “to determine whether the public might benefit from similar policies at other agencies.”
Both candidates stopped short of endorsing criminal penalties for improper denial of access to information.
Clinton’s spokesman reported that under the president’s 1995 declassification order, fewer documents have been classified, and many have been declassified, but said the administration “believes that efforts to improve the administration of FoIA and security classification systems are more likely to produce greater openness than criminal penalties.”
ASNE’s final question asked what steps the candidates would take to ensure government compliance with the spirit and letter of FoIA.
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