New House panel will oversee information policy

The incoming chairman of the House Government Reform Committee plans to form an Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee.

"My goal is to consolidate the jurisdictions of some of the subcommittees so that the jurisdiction of each subcommittee will have broad appeal and will engage the attention of the subcommittee members," Henry Waxman, D-Calif., stated in a Dec. 7 letter to committee members.

Waxman has proposed four other subcommittees: Domestic Policy; Federal Workforce, Post Office, and the District of Columbia; Government Management, Organization, and Procurement; and National Security and International Relations.

That would be down two subcommittees from the total under outgoing Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va. Those current panels are: Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources; Energy and Resources, Federalism and the Census; Federal Workforce and Agency Organization; Government Management, Finance and Accountability; National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations; and Regulatory Affairs.

Waxman told Davis about the new organization before sharing his thoughts with committee members, he stated in the letter.

Waxman spokeswoman Karen Lightfoot said she does not have any additional information on the subcommittees at this time. But government watchdogs predict that the changes will mean higher priority given to questions of access, classification and freedom of information.

"In the '60s and '70s, when the Freedom of Information Act was being conceived and enacted, there was much more regular focus on these kinds of issues, than what we've seen in the last decade," said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. "It's a return to what had been the norm."

Waxman has long advocated for a more open government. In May 2005, he introduced legislation to restore transparency laws that he said had been reversed under the Bush administration. The bill, H.R. 2331, would overturn 2002 restrictions on the release of information under FOIA and a memorandum that urged agencies to withhold sensitive information, including Internet content.

"My initial impression is that anything that improves congressional oversight of information policy is definitely an improvement over the current situation," Electronic Frontier Foundation Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann said.

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