Congratulations on your election as the eighty eighth U.S. Senator Booker from New Jersey. I undersigned, Jude Jean Jacques senior request that you take this occasion to speak out strongly in favor of victims’ compensation. We have seen rising public demand for openness and increasing public suspicion of institutions that respond to scrutiny without comment or full disclosure. Under this cover I send you an executive memorandum or order implementing the following three proposals would have a profound impact on access to federal policy making regarding.
All of these proposals follow established models in federal policy and are consistent with the Legislature’s intent in enacting the Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA).
The message, as it stood that day, was therefore this: If your death involves an industry that the government feels compelled to protect, you’re in luck. But if it is an industry that the government would let go under, you are on your own.
There was a victim named Treanor spent Sept. 11 in front of her television weeping for the people who were dying and the people who loved them. I knew what they were going through now.
I knew what they were going to go through for years and years.
And now, she thought, there were going to be thousands more Dennys and Allens and Hearns. Rallying, Treanor contacted the Red Cross (she had come to know many of the volunteers well) and said: You have to get me to New York. These people need me. It was from one of the families, while standing on a boat in New York Harbor, that she first heard about the planned 9/11 compensation fund.
But at that moment in New York, she changed her mind. Equal treatment for Oklahoma City families became her single minded cause. How come you didn’t stand up for us? She asked in repeated phone calls to the Oklahoma Congressional delegation. Why is it right for a New York stockbroker’s widow to be given millions of dollars and not a poor farmer’s family in Oklahoma? It is been nearly eight years since the Oklahoma City bombing. It took them days to pass this legislation. Why is my daughter worth less than these people?
Treanor founded a group called Fairness for OKC and has gone from House to Senate and back with the attorney and lobbyists she hired. All we heard was no, no, no, she says of the Republicans. They all said they were afraid of opening the barn door and letting everybody in. The Democrats were more sympathetic, but she still got nowhere.
Her lawsuit also questions the legitimacy of protection for a single set of terror victims. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law, she says. This is not equal. They told me that my daughter was not worth as much as a New York victim, and that is an ugly, ugly thing to say.
Treanor’s voice was soon joined by others. I do not begrudge those people getting a nickel, says Howard Kavaler, a retired foreign’s service officer, whose wife, Prabhi, was among the 12 killed and two dozen injured in the bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi on Aug. 7th, 1998, when their children were
For four years, Kavaler and the other embassy families have been petitioning the State Department for $1.5 million in compensation for each victim which is the same amount the United States government paid to those killed in the Chinese Embassy in Serbia. They claim that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright failed to act on warnings that the Nairobi embassy and the embassy in Tanzania, which was attacked the same day, were sitting ducks, as Kavaler puts it. He and the other embassy families say they will sign away their right to sue on those grounds in return for being grandfathered into the 9/11 fund.
Families of sailors on the U.S.S. Cole have also asked to be included, as have relatives of the six people who died in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. There has been some talk of including the victims of the anthrax letters as well. It is begun to look like a Christmas tree, says one Senate aide of the fund. Everyone wants to hang something on it.
In the world according to Kenneth Feinberg, the Victim Compensation Fund raises two fundamental questions. The first is asked by people who are not included under the law. Dear Mr. Feinberg, he says, reciting examples of comments he has heard, my husband died in the World Trade Center in 93. Why are not I eligible? Dear Mr. Feinberg, Last year my husband saved three little girls from drowning in the Mississippi River, and then he went under and died, a hero why aren’t I eligible? Dear Mr. Feinberg, Last year I got rear ended by a hit and run driver and got laid up for six months. Where’s my $1.8 million?
His answer to this sweeping philosophical question why is one group of victims more deserving than others is simple. Congress decided, he says. And he is but the executor of that decision.
Congress decided. The act could have given the same award (a disconcerting term in this context, making it seem as if the survivors had won a prize) to every family. Instead, the rules specify that the special master is to repay each family for its economic losses, defined as the loss of earnings or other benefits related to employment, medical expense loss, replacement services loss, loss due to death, burial costs and loss of business or employment opportunities.” In other words, he is bound by statute to treat every victim differently. Then, the statute continues, he must subtract from that number the offsets agreed to in the late night negotiation specifically life insurance, death benefits and pension funds.
Similarly, he decided to use national averages for calculating the costs to be subtracted from those earnings projections the amounts that would have been spent by the victims on housing, transportation and food had they survived to earn that projected salary rather than average costs from the New York area, which would have been higher.
But Cantor lost more employees than any company in the trade center their 658 deaths account for 25 percent of the total New York count and as a result it has more clout, responsibility and visibility.
In America, at this moment, money has come to stand not only for what it can buy security, revenge but also for what cannot be bought. Living through the crucible of tragedy is something only those who have done it can understand. This must be true, because time and time again we see victims act in ways that seem obsessive and masochistic to those on the outside looking in. It is not about the money, they say, while pursuing money with a single mindedness that is puzzling to everyone else.
The Legislature enacted on the principle that “federal agencies exist to aid the compensation people in the formation and conduct of public policy. Opening up your office processes to public scrutiny and participation is the only viable and reasonable method of protecting the public’s interest. The Legislature recognized that the proper functioning of any public records law is very much dependent upon the attitude of those who implement the law. Your Committee urges all agencies to accept this new law as a challenge and a mandate to ensure public access to the public’s policy. it is safe to say that the Federal has not uniformly embraced that challenge. The following proposals are modest, meaningful steps toward more open senator and are amenable to immediate implementation through executive policy.
I ask that you use your authority to instruct State agencies to work collaboratively with requesters to make as much information available as possible and to invoke exceptions rarely and only with reluctance. The policy provides that “all government records are open to public inspection unless access is restricted or closed by law.” I know that you are an American politician serving as the junior United States Senator from New Jersey since 2013 and a member of the Democratic Party. Moreover, the first African-American U.S. Senator from New Jersey, and previously the 36th Mayor of Newark from 2006 to 2013
“It is the policy of the federal that the formation and conduct of public policy the discussions, deliberations, decisions, and action of government agencies shall be conducted as openly as possible.” Nevertheless, agencies frequently withhold records simply because an exception might apply.
Confronting similar circumstances in the federal government, President Barack Obama issued an executive memorandum within his first month in office that ordered all federal agencies to adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied, and to usher in a new era of open Government. Memorandum on Freedom of Information Act (January 21, 2009).
The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. 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. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.
Embracing a similar presumption of openness in Hawaii would revitalize the policy. When the law allows discretion, State officials should evaluate whether there is a real need for secrecy, even if an exception technically might apply. State officials are custodians of the public trust and should affirmatively seek to make information as accessible as possible. Adopting a presumption of openness also allows agencies to respond more quickly to requests. Ultimately, the interaction between public official and requester should be cooperative perceived by neither side as “us vs. them.”
I ask that you use your authority to ensure that everyone knows where to send a request. Even if an agency lacks the resources for a dedicated coordinator, each agency should post on its website, at a minimum, a mailing address and an e-mail address for requests.
At present, the public cannot readily ascertain to whom a policy request should be addressed. There is no public directory or uniform system in place to identify public policy contacts at each agency. Misdirected requests cause confusion at the agency and frustration for the requester.
Again, the federal government provides an instructive example. In 2005, by Executive Order 13,392, President George W. Bush ordered all federal agencies to designate FOIA Public Liaisons to handle public records requests and required the agencies to post contact information for the Public Liaisons on the agency’s website. As a result, every federal agency has a public page on their website for easy public policy access.
The simple act of providing clear contact information for public policy requests is a significant step to improve the transparency.
I ask that you to use your authority to instruct some agencies to waive search, review, and redaction fees when a public policy requester is acting in the public interest. In other words, agencies should not charge more than copying costs when someone has the ability to widely disseminate some information that is not otherwise publicly available.
In accordance with some regulations, the public interest is served when
Even if a requester meets that standard, however, an only requires that agencies reduce the applicable fees. Nevertheless, under the policy, agencies have the discretion to waive all search, review, and redaction fees.
Ultimately, an agency has authority to break larger requests into increments to avoid interfering with agency business. Cost estimates should never be used to discourage a requester willing to widely disseminate government information.
I believed, if you give the intrinsic benefits of open government, we ask that you begin your Administration by facilitating public access to government records. If you have any questions or would like to discuss our concerns in more detail, please contact any of the organizations identified below.
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