United States Senate
Committee on Governmental Affairs
Hearing on the Nomination of Tom Ridge
To Be Director of Homeland Security
January 17, 2003
[excerpts on FOIA]
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Welcome, Governor Ridge. The challenge before you is massive. It's been outlined. I believe you're up to the job. And that's the most important conclusion for each of us to reach. And I hope that you'll be confirmed with great speed. We have a lot of work to do on this committee, in my judgment. Your work has been outlined. Putting together all of these people in all of these agencies and pieces of agencies is a huge job.
But we have some repairs to make in the underlying legislation already, repairs that seem to me to be quite obvious.
The Freedom of Information Act language has got to be clarified. We are denying the public unclassified information in the current law which should not be denied to the public. We had a bipartisan compromise here which was included in our bill. Senator Bennett led that effort. That was dropped in the final legislation. We must address that.
LEVIN: There's one other issue that I want to raise with you. I think I have one minute left. And that has to do with information that comes into the new Homeland Security Department, which is unclassified. I'm only talking here about unclassified information.
Under the bill which was passed, anyone who divulges that information about critical infrastructure will be subject to a criminal prosecution.
Now, there's real problems with that. That means that you could get information that, for instance, a company is leaking material into a river that you could not turn over to the EPA. If that company was the source of the information, you could not even turn it over to another agency. It means that a member of Congress that finds out about that information through oversight cannot act on that information, even though its unclassified information. We would be stymied from acting on it, making it public, for instance, or doing anything else in relation to information which comes to us or comes to you as a result of a voluntary submission.
That is much too broad. And there are some real dangers there, because then companies could actually protect themselves from actions against them, either agency actions, congressional action or whatever, by simply giving you the information; at that point that becomes a security blanket for the company.
And so, we need you to look at that language. It's way too broad, both on the Freedom of Information Act side of it, on the whistleblower side of it, and on this language that I particularly made reference to where a criminal penalty would be attached to the public disclosure of unclassified information where it was voluntarily submitted by a company. There could be some very unintended consequences there, which could give protections for wrongdoing that threaten our health and environment which we should not be giving to wrongdoers.
RIDGE: It certainly wasn't the intent, I'm sure, of those who advocated the Freedom of Information Act exemption to give wrongdoers protection or to protect illegal activity. And I'll certainly work with you to clarify that language.