Department of Juicy Secrets

Justice Department wins secrecy award for second year in a row

March 15, 2013

The Justice Department has won the Rosemary Award for the second year in a row, an award that honors the federal agency with the "worst open government performance" of 2012.

The National Security Archive announced Friday it was bestowing the Rosemary Award—named after Nixon secretary Rose Mary Woods, who "accidentally" erased portions of the Watergate tapes—on the Justice Department for continuing to flout congressional and executive orders to improve transparency.

Justice "clinched the intensely competitive award" with the Wednesday appearance by the director of the department's Office of Information Policy, Melanie Pustay, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to a press release announcing DOJ’s win.

Pustay testified that updating agency Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations was optional, "‘not required,’ after Congress changed the law in 2007 or when the president and the attorney general changed the policy in 2009."

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) coauthored the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which ordered federal agencies to update their FOIA regulations and practices.

Pustay said the Justice Department is in the midst of updating its regulations.

"It's been five years since we changed the law," Leahy shot back. "It took me less time to get through law school!"

The Justice Department last updated those regulations in 2003.

The National Security Archive also said the Justice Department won the award for continuing to defend all agency information withholdings that are challenged in court.

President Barack Obama said upon entering office that agencies should operate with a "presumption of disclosure." Attorney General Eric Holder followed Obama’s statements with a memorandum declaring his department would no longer defend unjustified withholdings.

As previously reported by the Free Beacon, the National Security Archive released a December audit finding that more than two-thirds of federal agencies had not updated their FOIA regulations to comply with President Obama and Holder’s directives.

A follow-up audit released this week found that more than half of federal agencies are still not compliant.

The National Security Archive, a George Washington University-based organization that works to archive declassified government documents, has been issuing the Rosemary Award since 2005. It awarded the Justice Department the Rosemary Award of 2011 for what is said were selective and abusive prosecutions against whistleblowers, retrograde regulations, and recycled legal arguments for secrecy.