A federal appeals court yesterday ruled in favor of two defense contractors seeking to stop the government from releasing information about their quality control processes on the grounds that the documents reveal trade secrets.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that the Defense Department agency had failed to explain how disclosing documents that partially describe how a helicopter manufacturer and engine builder construct and inspect products would not cause competitive harm.
Media outlets filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Defense in 2004 for its performance evaluations of machinery built by Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and United Technologies Corporation. Both contractors contested the release of the information, arguing it was protected by a FOIA exemption that protects trade secrets.
"The agency must explain why substantial competitive harm is not likely to result if the information is disclosed," the court said. "[The Defense Department] instead concluded … that release of the documents will not cause Sikorsky or Pratt substantial competitive harm. A naked conclusion, however, is not enough.”
The appeals court decision reversed a lower court’s ruling that the documents could be released. The case will now return to the district court, which will instruct the Defense Department to proceed in light of the appeals court decision.