ASJA to Congress: Make New Agency Accountable

July 31, 2002 News Release

The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) has urged Congress to reject or change legislative provisions that would exempt the proposed Department of Homeland Security from full public accountability under the Freedom of Information Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act.

ASJA, a national organization of leading independent journalists and authors, supports measures to make the nation more secure, but in a letter to Congressional leaders expressed concern that, if passed as written, legislation to create the new department would “limit the legal safeguards that are so essential to our First Amendment freedoms.”

“We feel very strongly that some of the provisions – such as exempting the department from Freedom of Information and Whistleblower protections – will harm the nation more than it will safeguard it,” said Claire Safran, chair of ASJA’s First Amendment Committee.

The letter, signed Safran, was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD); Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS); House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX); Chairman, House Select Committee on Homeland Security Dick Armey (R-TX); Nancy Pelosi, (D-CA) ranking member, House Committee on Homeland Security; Dick Gephardt, (D-MO) House minority leader and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL).

ASJA’s membership numbers more than 1,000 freelance writers of magazine articles, books and other forms of nonfiction writing who have met the organization’s exacting standards of professional achievement. The text of the ASJA letter follows:

Letter to Congressional leaders:

“The American Society of Journalists and Authors supports measures that will make this nation more secure. However, as the national organization of leading independent journalists and authors, we urge that some of these proposed new measures be changed or amended so as to avoid chipping away at the nation’s freedoms.

It is vital that the proposed new Department of Homeland Security be open and accountable to the press and to the public. As you vote to organize a government body to guarantee our security, we urge you to vote to reject any clauses or conditions that would limit the legal safeguards that are so essential to our First Amendment freedoms.

As currently proposed by the President, the new department would be exempt from full Freedom of Information Act disclosure, a move that would seriously undermine the public’s right to ask question and get responsive and responsible answers. It would also curtail the ability of the press to keep the citizens informed and the government accountable. As currently proposed, the secretary of the new agency also would have the power to waive the safeguards that are inherent in the Whistleblower Protection Act, thus silencing such brave patriots as FBI Agent Colleen Rowley.

We urge you to do your best to strip such troubling provisions from the proposed legislation or, should that proved fruitless, to vote against the entire bill. This new department is being pushed forward with unusual haste, but it is important that Congress take the time to get it right rather than get it fast. We urge you to remember that you cannot keep America safe by endangering the constitutional freedoms and protections of its citizens

Sincerely yours,

Claire Safran
Chair, First Amendment Committee