Senate Bill Introduced to Increase Trasparency at the Smithsonian

Recently, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced legislation (S. 3276) to apply the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and the Privacy Act to the Smithsonian Institution.

A federal court case (Dong v. Smithsonian Institution, 125 F.3d 877, (D.C. Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 118 S. Ct. 2311,141 L. Ed. 2d 169, 524 U.S. 922) ruled that the Smithsonian is not part of the Executive Branch and therefore is not subject to the Privacy Act or the Freedom of Information Act.

According to a published report in the Washington Post, the Smithsonian is opposed to having FOIA apply to the institution, and has fought having Grassley’s bill attached as an amendment to a FOIA bill currently awaiting action before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A procedural manual for responding to information requests was issued by the Smithsonian last fall (Directive 807). It states, “It is the policy of the Smithsonian Institution to respond to all written requests for SI records in a manner consistent with principles of disclosure under the FOIA.” However, Directive 807 goes on to list an extensive series of records that the Smithsonian will not provide to the public, including commercial and financial information, information about Smithsonian financial investments, records created during the Regents’ meetings, and information about collections and exhibits.

In January, the National Coalition for History and thirty other signatories sent a letter to the Smithsonian Regents urging revisions to Directive 807 to increase transparency.