Event explores FOIA law, secrecy vs. security, infrastructure

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

WASHINGTON — A federal judge who has written a new book on national security and the recently retired head of the federal Information Security Oversight Office join more than a dozen nationally known headliners as speakers for the 10th annual National Freedom of Information Day Conference kicking off this year’s Sunshine Week events at the Newseum and across the nation.

The National FOI Day Conference, sponsored by the First Amendment Center, will be held on Friday, March 14, in the new conference facilities at the Newseum, which will formally open in mid-April and is located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave.

This year’s event, “Toward a More Open Government: Opportunities & Obstacles,” is co-sponsored by Sunshine Week, and other participating organizations include the American Library Association, the Sunshine in Government Initiative, OpenTheGovernment.org and the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government.

Presenting the conference’s opening speech Friday morning will be J. William Leonard, the former ISOO chief who retired late last year after 32 years of federal service. Leonard, who has been a principled advocate for open government, will speak on “A New Balancing Test for Government Secrecy: How Excessive Classification Undermines National Security.”

During the luncheon program, the Hon. James E. Baker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, a former White House national-security expert, will discuss how open a democratic government can be during wartime in an interview with Tony Mauro of Legal Times. Judge Baker’s new book is In the Common Defense: National Security Law for Perilous Times.

“Secrecy and security are two of the most pressing issues confronting public officials and ordinary citizens today,” said conference host and organizer Ronald Collins of the First Amendment Center. “We are delighted to be able to have two such acclaimed experts to provide their perspectives on these issues and to join with other experts to discuss these timely topics.”

The conference agenda also includes two panel sessions:

  • “The New FOIA Law: Good News/Bad News,” moderated by Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, appraises recent amendments to the federal Freedom of Information Act. Panelists include James C. Ho of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Dan Metcalfe of American University; Tonda Rush of American PressWorks; and Thomas Susman of Ropes & Gray.

  • “Infrastructure Safety & Public Information,” moderated by Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, examines access to information about the nation’s bridges, mines, dams and other critical infrastructure: The panel includes Ted Gup, author of Nation of Secrets; Pam Ouwagie of the Minneapolis Star Tribune; Brian Pallasch of the American Society of Civil Engineers; and Ellen Smith of Mine Safety and Health News.

    The annual James Madison Award recognizing outstanding achievement in championing access to government information and the public’s right to know will be presented during the luncheon program by Loriene Roy, president of the American Library Association. At the end of regular programming in the afternoon, authors will sign recent FOI-related books.

    See program details and information on registering for the conference.

    The First Amendment Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. The Center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, and the rights to assemble and to petition the government.

    The First Amendment Center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum. Its affiliation with Vanderbilt University is through the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies. Its offices on the Vanderbilt campus are located in the John Seigenthaler Center.

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