Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is said to be one of the lawmakers instrumental in persuading conferees to drop the provision.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is said to be one of the lawmakers instrumental in persuading conferees to drop the provision. Charlie Neibergall / AP

Transparency Groups Hail Removal of FOIA Exceptions in Defense Bill

Critics had said Pentagon would have shielded documents on torture, sexual assault.

The $619.7 billion defense bill that cleared the House on Friday in a 375-34 vote does not grant the Pentagon its request for new exemptions in document release requirements under the Freedom of Information Act, a development that cheered transparency advocacy groups.

For much of this year, the Defense Department had been seeking clarifying language that would allow it to deny public requests for documents containing “information on military tactics, techniques and procedures”  in order to address concerns about giving potential adversaries advance knowledge.

But that provision, in Section 1054 of the Senate version of the bill, was removed during the closed House-Senate conference that ended this Tuesday, as noted by the Project on Government Oversight.  A major modernization of the 50-year-old FOIA law was enacted this July, and the Pentagon was seeking exemptions on national security grounds.

An array of transparency advocacy groups had written to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and his Democratic and House counterparts opposing the exemption. POGO argued in a recent blog post that it could have been used to conceal information on Defense Department “treatment of prisoners, handling of sexual assault complaints, oversight of contractors, the drone program, and other matters of compelling public interest.”

Sens. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., were reported to have been instrumental in persuading the conferees to drop the provision.

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