FAS Note: This internal NASA memo from November 1989 was disclosed by Rep. Howard Wolpe in 1992. It was repudiated by NASA Administrator Richard Truly immediately thereafter.


The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 U.S.C. section 552) requires that copies of all documents maintained in the course of conducting Government business must be provided to requesters unless the documents fall within certain narrow exceptions. As a result, the safest and most practical course of action is to prepare all documents in a manner that assumes that they will ultimately be publicly disclosed. Some general suggestions:

There are basically only three exemptions to FOIA that will have any real applicability to Government entities engaged in conducting scientific research: the national security exemption, the deliberative process exemption and the confidential business information exemption. FOIA exempts from disclosure documents properly classified pursuant to an executive order. This exemption is intended to protect information that must be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy. FOIA also exempts from disclosure inter-agency and intra-agency memoranda and correspondence that are pre-decisional and deliberative in nature. This exemption is intended to protect full and frank discussion within the Government in order to assure proper Government action by exempting recommendations, opinions and advice from mandatory disclosure. Finally, FOIA exempts from disclosure documents containing commercial information provided to the Government on a confidential basis. This exemption is intended to preserve the Government's ability to obtain necessary financial and otherwise commercially sensitive information from those business entities with which it deals. Some suggestions for enhancing the utility of these exemptions:

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