Yesterday was Freedom of Information Day, celebrating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a law passed 40 years ago that gives ordinary citizens the power scrutinize government documents. Among the most vocal supporters of the FOIA bill in 1966? Freshman congressman Donald Rumsfeld of Illinois, an original co-sponsor of the legislation. Rumsfeld’s call for the new FOIA bill, 1966:
Disclosure of government information is particularly important today because government is becoming involved in more and more of aspects of every citizen’s personal and business life, and so access to government information about how government is exercising its trust becomes increasingly important.
Forty years later, Rumsfeld seems to have forgotten his calls for open government:
Now, is there a tendency to overclassify in government? You bet! It’s a human instinct when you’re involved with sensitive materials to err on the side of — well, you know this; we’re in the business — to err on the side of classification.
Today, Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense has one of the worst records responding to FOIA requests. Just this week, the Pentagon refused a request by the Associated Press to release information about the identities of Guantanamo detainees.
Somewhere along the line, Rumsfeld became what he fought against in 1966: a government official with “a vested interest in the machinery of their agencies and bureaus” who resent “any attempt to oversee their activities, either by the public, the Congress or appointed department heads.” — Mike Darner