Secrecy of Mine Inspections Reduced

In a rare relaxation of mounting restrictions on disclosure of government information, the Labor Department has agreed to reverse its policy of withholding notes taken by mine safety inspectors from prompt release under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a January 11 letter written in the wake of the Sago mine disaster, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) had urged the Secretary of Labor to permit disclosure of these notes (Secrecy News, 01/17/06).

“This unwarranted secrecy may protect the mining industry from embarrassing disclosures, but it undermines accountability and mine safety,” Rep. Waxman wrote.

On January 20, three House Republicans, including Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), the new House Majority Leader, wrote to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to make the same request.

“We share the concern expressed by some that … this blanket policy has had the effect of denying important information about mine safety to the public.”

In a January 30 reply to Majority Leader Boehner, a Labor Department official wrote that the disclosure policy would be revised to permit release of mine inspector notes “effective immediately.”

Rep. Boehner applauded the move. “Our request to Secretary Chao was made for one simple reason: to get more information, more quickly into the hands of Congress, the families impacted by the tragedies, and all those with a stake in mining and these investigations,” he said.

In a January 31 news release, Rep. Boehner and his colleagues took credit for the step. See “In Response to House Republican Request, Labor Department Makes Key Policy Change Impacting Mine Investigations”.

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