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GATES v. SCHLESINGER

October 10, 1973

Margaret GATES et al.
v.
James R. SCHLESINGER et al.


Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr., District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBINSON, JR.

AUBREY E. ROBINSON, Jr., District Judge.

 The Act, Section 10(a)(1), expressly requires that "each advisory committee meeting shall be open to the public." Defendants have based their decision to close the working sessions of the DACOWITS meeting on the exception to this open meeting requirement contained in Section 10(d) of the Act. That exception, as relevant here, provides that meetings may be closed when an appropriate authority determines that the meeting is "concerned with matters listed in section 552(b) of Title 5." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b) lists the matters exempted from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. The specific exemption claimed as applicable here is § 552(b)(5) for "inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters. . . ."

 The Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) has determined that:

 
These working sessions involve the exchange of verbal information and proposals between the Directors of the women's military components which, if written, would fall within the exemption in clause (5) of Section 552(b) of Title 5, United States Code. *fn2"

 In a supporting affidavit opposing the present motion for Preliminary Injunction, the Assistant Secretary has elaborated on the above determination.

 
These sessions involve debate and an exchange of views on policies affecting women in the services . . . The women Directors of each of the women's military components are present as a source of information to the Committee members. The women directors are asked many questions by the Committee members as to what real problems currently are for women in the military. In answering those questions, the women Directors discuss with the Committee internal views and proposals which, if written, would fall within the exception clause (5) of section 552(b) of Title 5, United States Code, . . . *fn3"

 The Court has several difficulties with Defendants' position. First of all, the question arises whether exemption 5 of the Freedom of Information Act is available for matters discussed by or before an advisory committee. The exemption applies only to inter-agency or intra-agency letters or memoranda. Essential to Defendants' case, then, is a finding either that the Advisory Committee is itself an "agency" or that it is within an "agency" of the Defense Department for purposes of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the Freedom of Information Act. The Court cannot make such a finding, indeed, its present conclusion is to the contrary.

 The Federal Advisory Committee Act utilizes *fn4" the definition of agency contained in the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 551(1), which is applicable also to the Freedom of Information Act. It is significant that the Federal Advisory Committee Act contains a separate and distinct definition of an "advisory committee", thus supporting the proposition that an advisory committee is not an "agency". Further support for this proposition is found in Soucie v. David, 145 U.S.App.D.C. 144, 448 F.2d 1067, 1073 (1971), a Freedom of Information Act case wherein the Court of Appeals said

 
. . . The APA apparently confers agency status on any administrative unit with substantial independent authority in the exercise of specific functions.

 It is clear on the present record that the role of DACOWITS in the Department of Defense is advisory only and that it possesses no "substantial independent authority." The Court concludes that DACOWITS is not an "agency" and that matters before it are, therefore, not "inter-agency" affairs within the meaning of the applicable statutes.

 Defendants contend that DACOWITS "is functioning as a part of the Department of Defense . . ." *fn5" This argument, of course, can be made for any advisory committee, for by its very nature an advisory committee is considering matters and offering recommendations which will ultimately be presented to government officials for final policy decisions. Defendants claim DACOWITS is "unique from other advisory committees" *fn6" because of "the presence of the women Directors, who exchange policies and proposals internal to the Department of Defense with Committee members." *fn7" The Court finds nothing unique in this. Indeed, it would be surprising if the situation were otherwise, with an agency allowing its advisory committee to meet in a vacuum, with little or no information or dialogue to guide its deliberations. Yet the exchange of information does not make an advisory committee "part of" its government agency. The committee is not an internal organ, but again by its very nature, is a group of "outsiders" called upon because of their expertise to offer views and comments unavailable within the agency. Defendants would liken advisory committees to professional consultants. Yet consultants generally operate by contract in a subordinate and confidential role. Whatever may be the status of consultants' reports under the Freedom of Information Act, *fn8" Congress has expressly determined in the Federal Advisory Committee Act that Advisory Committee reports and functions are not generally confidential. The Court is not persuaded, therefore, that the analogy to professional consultants is sound. Thus Defendants' argument that the Advisory Committee is within the Defense Department, and that matters before it are therefore "intra-agency" cannot be accepted here. If the matters coming before an advisory committee are neither inter-agency nor intra-agency affairs, exemption 5 of the Freedom of Information Act is by its terms unavailable as justification for the closing of the DACOWITS meetings here in question.

 It might well be argued that the statute requires only that the Advisory Committee meeting be "concerned with" exempt matters. Yet it is hard to imagine an advisory committee that would not be concerned with some aspects of inter-agency or intra-agency affairs. To allow the "concerned with" language to be so broadly construed would allow the sponsoring agencies to close all advisory committees to the public by placing some ...


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