Lawmakers on Both Sides Slam Proposed Interior Records Rules

WASHINGTON (CN) – Saying the changes could open the process up to politicization and unnecessary litigation, a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday took aim at new rules the Interior Department has proposed for handling public records requests.

“The proposed rule appears to restrict public access to DOI’s records and delay the processing of [Freedom of Information Act] requests in violation of the letter and spirit of FOIA,” their three-page letter states. “The American people have the right to access information from DOI, and the proposed rule needlessly encroaches on that right.”

The group includes three senators – Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and John Cornyn, R-Texas – and one member of the House, Representative Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

They specifically ask the agency to reconsider changes to its regulations that would put in place a monthly limit on requests from one person or group and require people to more specifically identify where the records they seek are located.

The lawmakers say this provision would require people to have a greater understanding of the bureaucracy than Congress intended when it passed the public records law.

“Such ambiguous language places an unjustified and unreasonable burden on the public to understand the bureaucracy of the agency and which office may hold a particular set of records,” the letter states. 

In addition, the lawmakers take objection to the Interior Department’s plan to change the phrase “time limit” in the current regulations to “time frame,” saying that could make the agency treat timelines clearly laid out in the law as “mere guidelines.”

In its notice of rulemaking published in December, the agency said it proposed the new regulations in response to “exponential increases” in public records requests.

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