Excessive government regulation?

§50.23   Policy against entering into final settlement agreements or consent decree that are subject to confidentiality provisions and against seeking or concurring in the sealing of such documents.

(a) It is the policy of the Department of Justice that, in any civil matter in which the Department is representing the interests of the United States or its agencies, it will not enter into final settlement agreements or consent decrees that are subject to confidentiality provisions, nor will it seek or concur in the sealing of such documents. This policy flows from the principle of openness in government and is consistent with the Department’s policies regarding openness in judicial proceedings (see 28 CFR 50.9) and the Freedom of Information Act (see Memorandum for Heads of Departments and Agencies from the Attorney General Re: The Freedom of Information Act (Oct. 4, 1993)).

(b) There may be rare circumstances that warrant an exception to this general rule. In determining whether an exception is appropriate, any such circumstances must be considered in the context of the public’s strong interest in knowing about the conduct of its Government and expenditure of its resources. The existence of such circumstances must be documented as part of the approval process, and any confidentiality provision must be drawn as narrowly as possible. Non-delegable approval authority to determine that an exception justifies use of a confidentiality provision in, or seeking or concurring in the sealing of, a final settlement or consent decree resides with the relevant Assistant Attorney General or United States Attorney, unless authority to approve the settlement itself lies with a more senior Department official, in which case the more senior official will have such approval authority.

(c) Regardless of whether particular information is subject to a confidentiality provision or to seal, statutes and regulations may prohibit its disclosure from Department of Justice files. Thus, before releasing any information, Department attorneys should consult all appropriate statutes and regulations (e.g., 5 U.S.C. 552a (Privacy Act); 50 U.S.C. 403-3(c)(6) (concerning intelligence sources and methods), and Execution Order 12958 (concerning national security information). In particular, in matters involving individuals, the Privacy Act regulates disclosure of settlement agreements that have not been made part of the court record.

(d) The principles set forth in this section are intended to provide guidance to attorneys for the Government and are not intended to create or recognize any legally enforceable right in any person.

[Order No. 2270-99, 64 FR 59122, Nov. 2, 1999]

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