Marine mammal info denied to public

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1997:

WASHINGTON D.C.––Congressional
Research Service senior analyst Gene Buck advised
online correspondents on March 5 that, “In response
to evolving CRS policy, I believe it is prudent that I
suspend providing my weekly fishery and marine
mammal summaries to non-Congressional parties, and
retract all permission previously granted for use of this
material. CRS is sensitive to perceptions that its material
is more widely available than might be helpful in
fulfilling its limited role of serving Congress. Thus I
am taking this step to terminate what could be perceived
as an inappropriate exposure of CRS material.”
Pressed for explanation, Buck insisted,
“The decision to stop posting my summaries was
entirely voluntary on my part after several meetings
with higher-level CRS management and attorneys earlier
this week. Last week, CRS received an irate letter
from several constituency groups expressing concern
that some of my work was out of bounds and should
be restricted to the legislative limits that we work only
for Congress. This related to the wide distribution of
one of my draft reports for peer review and comment.”


The draft report, distributed on December
31, 1996 to reviewers including ANIMAL PEOPLE,
was entitled Marine Mammals in Captivity, and factually
summarized current issues pertaining to the status
of captive marine mammals under federal law. Seeing
nothing in it that might reasonably have annoyed any
constituency group involved in marine mammal issues,
either for or against keeping marine mammals in captivity,
ANIMAL PEOPLE filed Freedom of
Information Act requests seeking the “irate letter from
several constitutency groups” and other relevant documents.
As the CRS is not part of the Executive Branch
of government and is therefore not directly subject to
FOIA, Buck didn’t cooperate––though the same materials
should have been available by going through
Executive Branch officers with access to CRS––but he
hinted that vital clues were available at the World
Wide Web site of the Federation of American
Scientists, formerly called the Federation of Atomic
Scientists.
FAS, founded in 1945 by members of the
Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic
bomb, in conscientious response to the use of the
bomb, describes itself as “a privately funded nonprofit
policy organization whose board of sponsors includes
over 40 American Nobel Laureates,” who are
“engaged in analysis and advocacy on science, technology
and public policy for global security.” ANIMAL
PEOPLE is familiar with FAS from decades of
related news coverage, and is a participant in a global
FAS online forum dedicated to tracking emerging animal
diseases and zoonotic epidemics.
One division of FAS is the Government
Secrecy Project, whose current focus is “Liberating
the Congressional Research Service.” Explains FAS
Secrecy & Government Bulletin #65, dated March
1997 and posted to the web site, “The Congressional
Research Service of the Library of Congress produces
well-regarded analyses of legislative and policy issues
for members of Congress. It also adheres to an
anachronistic secrecy policy. Although CRS maintains
thousands of its reports and issue briefs in electronic
form on its web site, that site has been signed
so as to prevent public access. One would have hoped
that the Library of Congress would be at the forefront
of new initiatives to break down old barriers to public
access to government information. It would seem
desireable for the public and their representatives to
operate from a common knowledge base, particularly
since its contents are neither classified nor otherwise
privileged. Indeed, they are widely available in hard
copy to Washington insiders and lobbyists.
Double standard
“To help fill the void created by the CRS
non-disclosure policy,” the FAS bulletin adds, “the
Committee for the National Institute for the Environment,”
headed by zoologist Stephen Hubbell, “has
scanned and posted several hundred CRS reports on
environmental topics on its website, >>http://
www.cnie.org<<. It even solicits financial contributions
in order ‘to add new and updated CRS reports’ to
its collection. But after the FAS Space Policy Project
posted a dozen or so CRS publications with the CRS
logo , obtained with the assistance of a Congressional
staffer, a CRS official sent an e-mail message to project
director John Pike to complain.”
Wrote CRS Science Policy Research
Division chief Eric Fischer, “While we are honored
that you consider [these reports] worthy of such a posting,
I need to point out that we work for Congress and
do not encourage such forms of dissemination beyond
Congress. It is essential that we maintain our ability to
serve the Congress well as an objective, nonpartisan
resource. We therefore cannot risk our products being
falsely perceived as being associated with any outside
organization, no matter how worthy.”
Responded FAS, after pointing out again
that CRS documents are neither copyrighted nor under
national security restrictions, “There is little danger
that anyone would perceive CRS as being affiliated
with FAS, but if that is a real concern, then why
doesn’t CRS make its publications available itself,
just as the General Accounting Office does?”
Partisan politics would appear to be
involved. The Committee for the National Institute for
the Environment, with which CRS seems to have no
problem, seeks to form a scientific umbrella and
source of research funding along the model of the
National Institutes of Health, a relatively noncontroversial
project, except for the cost, favored by many
Republican Congressional leaders as well as Democrats.
FAS, on the other hand, has never quite lost a
“left” reputation dating to the early days of the Cold
War. Anxiety at CRS over appearing to be cooperative
with FAS might just be the whole problem.

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