SEC won't reveal info on how it decides what info to reveal

Agency mum on how it handles Freedom of Information Act requests; ‘completely absurd'

By Dan Jamieson

Dec 30, 2010 @ 2:40 pm (Updated 2:42 pm) EST

The SEC is refusing to disclose some information on how it releases records under the Freedom of Information Act.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group, filed a FOIA request in September for records relating to new procedural guidance given to SEC staff, and a new policy requiring that FOIA appeals be decided by senior staff not involved in processing the initial request.

The SEC provided some records to CREW late last month. But it refused to release other records, and redacted about five pages of the 16-page FOIA procedural manual.

Most of a section in the July 2010 manual describing how SEC staff are to search for documents — about three pages — was redacted.

Ironically, a section on how staff should provide documents for redaction was itself redacted.

CREW filed an administrative appeal with the agency last week.

"It's completely absurd," said Anne Weismann, chief counsel at CREW. "When an agency won't disclose it's FOIA procedures, it shows an agency that's entrenched, that hasn't adopted the idea of transparency."

The appeal "will be reviewed … in accordance with agency regulations and the FOIA," said SEC spokesman John Nester in an email.

In its 2010 fiscal year ended in September, the SEC "took significant steps to ensure that responses are provided in a timely manner, that all requesters are treated equally, and that as much information as possible is provided to requesters without adversely affecting our mission," he wrote.

The SEC received a record 10,000 FOIA requests in fiscal year 2010, Mr. Nester added and the agency ended the year with the smallest number of pending requests in nine years.

CREW requested the information last fall after SEC chairman Mary Schapiro told Congress that the SEC had implemented nine of the 10 recommendations made by the agency's inspector general in a 2009 report.

The inspector general's report criticized the SEC's handling of FOIA requests.

More recently, the SEC took some hits for using new powers it got under the Dodd-Frank legislation to withhold information.

The agency came under attack by both Democrats and Republicans last summer after the Fox Business Network reported that the SEC cited the new law in rejecting a FOIA request by the network.

In October, president Obama signed legislation repealing those new powers.