Trying Hard to Be Open: Janet Reno Says Justice Department Attempting to Keep Promise for More Public Disclosure

Article excerpt

The Justice Department is trying every day to keep its promises for a more open government, with disclosure as the norm, according to Attorney General Janet Reno.

"Too many Americans mistrust their government," Reno said. "And unnecessary government secrecy feeds this mistrust.

"What makes this country unique is its commitment to being open, to holding its leaders accountable," she said during a speech at the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in Washington.

Speaking during the week that marked the one-year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, Reno noted that while "our thoughts turn to the threat of terrorism - in our own country and around the world - it is so important that we not retreat from that principle, that we not give in to assaults on our democratic values.

It is a time when we need to renew and invigorate our commitment to open government," Reno said.

In 1975, the Department of justice received 30,000 Freedom of Information Act requests, the attorney general said. In just 20 years, that figure sky-rocketed to 125,000 FoIA and Privacy Act requests, which were being handled by the equivalent of 617 people working full time at a cost of over $35 million a year.

"I know full well that a working reporter doesn't care how many requests we get or how much it costs to process them. I understand that," Reno said. What you care about is when you are going to get your questions answered. That's the challenge, one that demands real solutions."

Among the DoJ's progress, Reno cited a significant reduction in FolA request backlogs for most of the DoJ's sub-parts; a decline in backlogs at other agencies, such as Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Bureau of Prisons and U.S. attorneys' offices; the implementation of expedited FolA requests for information that is particularly newsworthy; a simple, easy. to retrieve document from the press office that doesn't go into the FoIA system; the release of information about DoJ attorney misconduct without FolA requests; the encouragement of discretionary release by other agencies and a reevaluation of FoIA forms and formats; and FoIA performance has become part of relevant DoJ employees' job descriptions. …