11-10-2006, 01:39 AM
Doj Foia Chief Retires
Quote:DOJ FOIA Chief Retires
By Rebecca Carr
November 2, 2006
The federal governments top privacy and information officer announced his retirement Thursday evening during a party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Justice Department office he heads.
Daniel J. Metcalfe said little about his departure other than he wanted to teach law after working at the department since the Nixon administration.
His retirement, just shy of his 55th birthday, is raising questions among some about whether it was prompted by concerns over the Bush administrations commitment to open government.
Metcalfe has co-directed the office that oversees privacy rights and enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act since its inception in 1981. The offices other director, Richard L. Huff, retired last year.
Metcalfe is largely responsible for President Bushs executive order last December requiring federal agencies to reverse the chronic delays in releasing records requested under the act.
Metcalfe has shown an ability to get along with administrations from both political parties dating back to President Nixon, said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel at the National Security Archive, a nonpartisan public research library at George Washington University.
I dont know whether it is the politics of this administrations anti-openness policies or the politics at Justice being so controlled by the White House, said Fuchs, speculating on why Metcalfe is leaving now.
He is a smart, knowledgeable person but he is also in a job where he is expected to offer advice on FOIA but has no power to enforce that advice, Fuchs said.
The presidents executive order, for example, sounds good, but offers no new resources to make the sweeping changes it prescribes, Fuchs said.
As a result hes always under attack for things the agencies are doing wrong, Fuchs said.
He has put a lot of effort in trying to make the executive order work, Fuchs said. That enthusiasm is appreciated. But it is a losing battle because the political forces behind the scenes dont want it to happen.
Metcalfe could not be reached for comment. Sources at the party informed Cox Newspapers that he had resigned.
Metcalfe started out as an intern at the department in 1971. He worked at Justice while attending law school at George Washington University on a full scholarship.
After graduating in 1976, Metcalfe clerked for a federal judge in D.C. and returned to Justice to become a trial attorney in the Justice Departments civil division. Even then, he specialized in the Freedom of Information Act.
In 1981, he was appointed as a founding director of the Justice Departments Office of Information and Privacy with Huff.
In this capacity, he has supervised the defense of more than 500 FOIA lawsuits in district and appellate courts.
Metcalfe became well known for protecting the privacy rights of the widow and children of Martin Luther King Jr. back in 1978.
Metcalfe successfully argued that requests for personal information about Kings life should be turned down to spare his widow, Coretta Scott King and their children, from learning potentially embarrassing information about their fathers personal life.
That case went all the way to the Supreme Court, establishing privacy rights of survivors.
Metcalfe also helped draft and enforce the hotly contested Ashcroft memo.
The Oct. 12, 2001 memo issued by former Attorney General John Ashcroft created controversy in the open government community because it was widely viewed as urging that the departments policy should be to withhold information rather than release it.
When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk of adverse impact on the ability of other agencies to protect other important records, the memo stated.
Over the last several years, Metcalfe has served as a principal adviser to the Department of Homeland Security on matters of post-9/11 information policy. He has also advised the office of the Director of National Intelligence and senior staff of the National Security Council.
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