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FAA drops plan to make bird-strike data secret

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  1. Freedom of Information
Government officials promised Wednesday to stop a proposal by the Federal Aviation Administration to restrict access to a key database…

Government officials promised Wednesday to stop a proposal by the Federal Aviation Administration to restrict access to a key database containing records of aircraft-wildlife strikes.

The Washington Post reported that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the paper in an interview the database would remain public. The FAA is part of the Transportation Department.

LaHood told The Post comments made in response to the FAA’s Federal Register notice ran "’99.9 percent’ in favor of making such information accessible.”

“I think all of this information ought to be made public, and I think that you’ll soon be reading about the fact that we’re going to, you know, make this information as public as anybody wants it,” LaHood told the paper.

The FAA had proposed a month ago that the National Wildlife Strike Database be barred from release. The proposal came after several news outlets, including the Associated Press, filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the entire database. The bird strike earlier this year that brought an airplane down into the Hudson River in New York City drew public and media attention to the issue.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with the American Society of News Editors, filed comments strongly opposing the FAA’s move.

The comments recalled President Obama’s Jan. 21 FOIA memo, in which he said, "The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears."

"Yet, that is what is happening in this instance," the Reporters Committee comments said. "Fears of decreased reporting, unsupported by evidence, are driving an effort to put a useful public database behind a realm of government secrecy. Fears the public may not comprehend the information in a way the FAA unilaterally decides is appropriate are also to blame. Letting these fears drive policy decisions undermines democracy, the functioning of the free press, and the transparency objectives of the Obama administration.”

LaHood too seemed to believe the FAA’s proposal didn’t fit with the White House’s stated transparency goals.

"The whole thing about the bird strike issue is it doesn’t really comport with the president’s idea of transparency," LaHood told The Post. "I mean, here they just released all of these CIA files regarding interrogation, and . . . the optic of us trying to tell people they can’t have information about birds flying around airports, I don’t think that really quite comports with the policies of the administration. . . . It’s something that somebody wanted to put out there to get a reaction. We got the reaction, and now we’re going to bring it to conclusion."