Watchdog settles information suit

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By Roger Snodgrass

A three-year quest to see some 10-year plans came to a rest recently with a stipulated agreement.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the national nuclear weapons agency agreed to terms July 30, by which the National Nuclear Security Administration would make available future Ten Year Site Plans

“In the future, as 10-year site plans are accepted and approved by NNSA Headquarters in Washington, we will place them on the Internet,” Department of Energy media contact in Albuquerque confirmed in an e-mail this morning. “As the stipulated order says, that will begin with the Fiscal year 2009 plans.”

In a press release Wednesday, Nuclear Watch said they began filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for these documents in December 2004, but did not get even a partial response until they filed a suit in March 2006.

In November 2007, U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Black ruled that, “ A bona fide request for production of documents under FOIA must be honored in a timely fashion or the purpose of the Act is vitiated. Information is often useful only if it is timely.”

He added, “Thus, excessive delay by the agency makes a mockery of the 20-day target set by the Act and violates congressional intent.”

His decision paved the way for additional hearings to develop remedies for the “violation” of FOIA.

The agreement calls for NNSA to post each Ten Year Site Plan on its web site within 60 days after acceptance by headquarters, with strict language on justifying redactions.

Nuclear Watch said hundreds of previously redacted passages from previous requests were provided during the court challenge.

The settlement begins with the next round of site plans for fiscal year 2009 and applies to the eight nuclear weapons research, testing and production sites.

Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch said this morning that he could not say exactly when the first site plan would become available, but under the normal cycle expected they should be available within a month or so.

Normally, he said, “The site plans lead to budget requests in the following year. This year’s site plans would feed into the FY2010 budget request.”

Asked about the redactions that the organization was able to obtain, he said the biggest class had to do with Exemption 5, concerning “pre-decisional” exemptions, and that the biggest group of those had to do with future budget costs.

“We whipped them categorically on Exemption 5,” he said.

The group’s FOIA efforts continue.

Coghlan said the group had recently been denied a FOIA request for the contract with Burson-Marstellar, the public relations agency that has been working for Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“We got a response last week,” he said. “That the contract was the property of Los Alamos National Security (the lab manager) and not the U.S. government.”