The Shape of Things to ComePosted: February 24, 2017
February 24, 2017
I have written a lot about accessing government records because that process has, historically, been a very good way to access some competitively useful data on businesses. But that access at the federal level has gradually tightened with each new President.
As we all know, following 9/11, access to government records, particularly federal ones, changed under that relatively new Presidential administration. A lot of data about a lot of facilities, ranging from nuclear energy facilities to dairy farms, was taken off line and otherwise made inaccessible. The stated reason: foiling potential terrorist assaults on “soft” civilian targets by denying them information on the facilities.
Another change occurred starting in 2009, again with a new Presidential administration. At the federal level, some aggregated data became more accessible, but access to other data became more difficult. Let me give just two examples:
- First, we saw a pattern of federal officials using non-governmental emails, evidently to foil civilian access to their working emails via FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) requests.
- Second, the response time to FOIA requests at many federal agencies drifted from being measured in weeks to being measured in months – or longer. The reasons included an avalanche of broad, politically-oriented requests, plus apparent diminutions in both resources allocated to FOIA requests as well as in willingness to release any data to the public.
So, what may happen how? Well, when the new President’s complete cabinet is approved, we will have a very pro-business administration. While that is good for business, it may not be as good for those seeking business information from federal filings and records. I can foresee a greater willingness to grant business requests to withhold business data from FOIA demands on the basis that the data is “competitively sensitive”.
On the other hand, the new administration seems to exhibit a different attitude towards the federal bureaucracy. I suspect that could translate into a willingness to be more approving of FOIA requests dealing with lower level and regional agency decision-making, which could involve also releasing involve business data.
The result? Probably faster responses to non-political FOIA requests, but a greater reluctance to release business data. But, in any case, with a new Presidential administration will come some change in FOIA and how it works (or does not work).