Reading Room

Thursday, December 4, 2008  
Lab Watchdog Group Files Lawsuit Claiming Violation of Freedom of Information Act

Published In: The Independent

Tri-Valley CAREs filed a lawsuit in federal district court in San Francisco against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The suit alleges numerous violations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The lawsuit was filed Tuesday.

Tri-Valley CAREs' press release said that it is forced to pursue litigation after DOE and NNSA failed to respond to six, separate FOIA requests within the 20-day timeframe generally required under the statute. By forcing Tri-Valley CAREs to wait up to 18 months and longer with no substantive response, DOE and NNSA have not only violated the law but greatly diminished the value of the information sought, which often becomes less relevant over time.

"As a watchdog organization, Tri-Valley CAREs relies on open government laws like FOIA to do its work on behalf of the community," observed Robert Schwartz, the group's staff attorney. "Congress provided that right, but DOE and NNSA have taken it away through abuse and neglect. We're filing this case to protect the public's right to information about our government."

The FOIA requests made by Tri-Valley CAREs concern the operations and activities of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). In one request, the group sought information about the Lab's Institutional Biosafety Committee. However, more than one year after making its request, Tri-Valley CAREs has yet to receive any documents concerning the committee, which is responsible for reviewing LLNL's research involving recombinant DNA and biological materials.

Another of Tri-Valley CAREs' FOIA requests concerns a federal assessment of the Lab's security programs that took place earlier this year. According to Tri-Valley CAREs, the Lab failed the most critical portions of that assessment, including training drills in which mock terrorists were able to succeed in their separate objectives to obtain sufficient material to detonate an "Improvised Nuclear Device" onsite and steal a stash of plutonium and highly enriched uranium. In its other FOIA requests, Tri- Valley CAREs sought information concerning The Lab's Tritium Facility and the use of plutonium at the National Ignition Facility (NIF).

"We've identified a pattern and practice by DOE and NNSA of failing to comply with FOIA," noted Schwartz. "Because we intend to address that pattern and practice with this case, a favorable ruling could have national implications."

Lynda Seaver, a spokesperson for the Lab, said that the Lab had fulfilled the requests. She noted that the information is sent to NNSA, where classified and proprietory information are removed along with any reference to personnel. Seaver added that she couldn't comment on any pending legal action.

This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Back to TVC in the news...