Saturday, September 02, 2006

Freedom with true abandon

Brian Ferguson from Canadian Econoview has linked to my post, “Can a Central Bank be too Transparent?” where I commented on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). He has this to add:

Her comments brought to mind something Frank Dunlop said in Yes Taoiseach, his memoir of his career in Irish politics.

The Taoiseach is the Irish Prime Minister, by the way. According to Dunlop, these days when civil servants want to give their ministers comments on memoranda they don't write comments in the margins, as they once might have. Now, because of Freedom of Information laws, they write them on Post-it notes which can be removed if the main memorandum has to be released to the public.

So the FOI requesters get less than they hoped for and future historians will also get less information about how decisions were made. Not, perhaps, a win-win situation.

Egad! Certainly a conflicting outcome. Here's another one for you, Brian. This one came in my email (thanks Dr. T). Apparently the U.S. Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) stopped publishing a portion of its minutes altogether after the FOIA was introduced. I sense a pattern.
I found more on this in a document on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Web site.

Originally, the minutes of the [FOMC] meetings were not made public. In response to passage of the Freedom of Information Act, which became effective in 1967, the FOMC divided the minutes into two documents. One was called the Memorandum of Discussion, which was released with a five-year lag.
The other was a shorter document called the Record of Policy Actions, which was released with relatively little delay. The Memorandum was a set of complete minutes, identifying speakers, but not in the form of a verbatim transcript. The Record of Policy Actions reported the Committee’s decisions and provided a summary of the Committee’s deliberations. However, the Record did not identify by name which FOMC members took which positions.
In 1976, in response to a court suit challenging the legality of delaying the release of the Memorandum, the FOMC discontinued publication of that document. The Committee continued to publish the Record of Policy Actions but in 1993 changed its name to “Minutes of FOMC Meetings."

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