Wednesday, August 10, 2011

FOIA request: Back to you, USAID

The lighthouse at El Morro
I am appealing USAID's July 27 refusal to release proposals from companies that sought participation in the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program, or CDCPP.
Alan Gross was jailed in Cuba in 2009 while evidently taking part in the program. USAID denied my request under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, saying it needed to protect information that could harm the contractors.
In my appeal, I wrote:
...USAID must balance its commitment to private contractors with its duty to transparency and openness in government.
The burden is on USAID - and the contractors - to justify why the proposals must be withheld in their entirety.
USAID could have redacted any information that the agency or the contractors believe should be kept secret. Instead, the agency refused to release any new information after considering my request for nearly seven months.

Releasing redacted versions of the contract proposals is in the public interest. It would allow a more informed debate on USAID policies in Cuba.
The agency’s programs in Cuba are a source of controversy. Alan Gross, who apparently received funding through the CDCPP, is serving a 15-year jail term in Cuba. Disclosure of documents related to the program could help shed light on USAID activities in Cuba.
USAID must justify its decision to withhold the contracts in their entirety. Otherwise, the agency is violating the spirit of the Obama administration’s commitment to transparency in government.
USAID must show why secrecy outweighs the public benefit of disclosure.

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