Friday, 18 March 1988
"INFORMATION POLICY AND COMPETITIVENESS"
was the subject of
hearings Wednesday, before the Senate Subcommittee on Technology
and the Law, chaired by Senator Leahy (D-VT). Title IV of the
proposed Superconductivity Competitiveness Act of 1988
(WN 26 Feb 88 and 11 Mar 88)
got rough treatment from a string of witnesses
representing science and industry. Title IV would require
agencies to withhold "commercially valuable scientific and
technical information generated in government laboratories" from
requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Witnesses
from IBM and the American Physical Society recounted the history
of international development of the new superconductors. Since
the proposed legislation has so far failed to pick up a single
sponsor in Congress, the President's Science Advisor, William
Graham, was left to defend Title IV by himself.
. THE STRANGE CASE OF THE "SAMURAI SHUTTLE"
was raised by an
angry Senator Leahy when Dr. Graham's turn came to testify. Last
summer, in the midst of the debate on a similar FOIA exemption
contained in a proposed Trade Bill, the Administration reported
that the Japanese had used FOIA to obtain design details for the
space shuttle, thus saving them "hundreds of millions of dollars
and years of research" in their efforts to enter the commercial
satellite market. Giving them the shuttle plans might seem to be
a diabolically clever scheme to level the playing field, but
Leahy wondered what sort of FOIA request could have succeeded in
releasing such a flood of documents. NASA, however, denied there
had ever been such a request -- the incident had apparently been
fabricated to gain support for the Trade Bill! Leahy cautioned
Graham against any unsubstantiated anecdotes this time.
Undaunted by this warning, Graham proceeded to defend Title IV by
citing "horror stories" of researchers being required to release
their laboratory notebooks in the midst of a project to comply
with a FOIA request. Leahy promptly challenged him to come up
with a single documented example. Graham is working on it.
3. ALL THIS TOOK PLACE ON "FREEDOM OF INFORMATION DAY."
March 16 is the birth date of President James Madison who said:
"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean
to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power
which knowledge gives." The American Library Association marked
the occasion by releasing a thick report on the growing loss of
public access to information from the United States Government.
4. INTERNATIONAL PARTICIPATION IN THE SUPERCOLLIDER
came up in
hearings in both the Senate and House this week. According to
James Decker of the DOE, foreign governments are reluctant to
become partners without a strong expression of commitment by
Congress, while Congress seems unwilling to make that commitment
until it knows what support is coming from abroad. Senator
Johnston asked, "Why not let them build it and us participate?"