Magazine article Science News

Graham Defends FOIA Exemption for Federal Lab Research

Magazine article Science News

Graham Defends FOIA Exemption for Federal Lab Research

Article excerpt

Graham defends FOIA exemption for federal-lab research

William R. Graham Jr., the President's science adviser, is carrying to Capitol Hill the administration's plea for a broad new exemption to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The 1966 law gives individuals broad rights to search for and acquire nonclassified government information, much of it unpublished, but exempts from disclosure certain data, such as industrial trade secrets, personnel data covered by the Privacy Act and controlled nuclear information. At a Senate judiciary hearing last week, Graham argued for an additional exemption to remove an FOIA "prejudice against government scientists."

The administration included a proposal for just such an exemption in its Superconductivity Competitiveness Act, a bill it sent to Congress on Feb. 23. Aimed at promoting U.S. competitiveness in high technology, this legislation would prohibit FOIA release of any national-laboratory-generated research data that might have commercial value and whose release could "cause harm to the economic competitiveness of the United States."

Graham said at the hearing that government scientists, unlike their colleagues in academia and industry, can be "compelled" to release data, including laboratory notebooks on work in progress -- even when doing so jeopardizes the government's ability to protect patent rights, copyrights or control of trade secrets.

The new exemption, he said, would also close an apparent loophole in export-control law. He noted that in 1984, the Department of Defense received an exemption for FOIA requests involving "strategically sensitive but otherwise unclassified" technologies having both civilian and strategic military applications. But Graham said this exemption does not shield from FOIA similar -- or even identical -- export-controlled information available through other federal agencies. …

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