advice to Air Force policymakers. The affidavits suggest further that the survey presents a unique opportunity for candid exchange between personnel and policymakers. If survey respondents are not promised confidentiality they will, as Roomsburg predicts, be less likely to express their opinions candidly, thus depriving Air Force policymakers of valuable and necessary information. The absence of these candid opinions would likely result in the implementation of Air Force policies which do not respond to the actual needs of Department personnel.
In addition to thwarting the ability to elicit candid and frank responses from Air Force personnel to survey questions, release of the requested information could hamper the very formulation of the CATI survey questions. Roomsburg states that plaintiff seeks access to documents which include analyses and recommendations on questions which should be contained in the survey. Release of such information could inhibit personnel administrators from broaching certain subjects by way of the CATI survey even when feedback from Air Force personnel on those subjects is needed. Such a result would also frustrate the decisionmaking process by making it impossible for Department policymakers to acquire needed information.
Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that it seeks factual data in the form of aggregate survey results reflecting the objective measurement of the opinions and attitudes of randomly selected members of the Air Force. Plaintiff asserts that the requested material will not reveal the Department's decisionmaking processes because the survey participants were not acting as policy advisors but merely as survey subjects. Plaintiff also stresses that since it is not seeking individual responses to survey questions but only aggregate survey results, individuals will not be inhibited from participating in future surveys.
Even if plaintiff requested only numerical statistics about the opinions expressed by survey respondents, FOIA would not automatically provide plaintiff with access to the information. The primary concern the Court must address is the impact that disclosure of opinion or fact would have on the Department's decisionmaking process. Quarles, 893 F.2d at 392. As discussed above, the goal of the survey is to elicit the forthright opinions of Air Force personnel on various topics. Even if these opinions were transformed into numerical statistics, release of the statistics would harm the decisionmaking process in two ways. First, exposure of aggregate opinions of respondents would deny confidentiality, thereby impairing the candid flow of views and preventing policymakers from obtaining valuable information. Second, such statistics would expose the areas of inquiry deemed important by policymakers. Thus, disclosure of aggregate opinion data could stifle or compromise the development of CATI survey questions and the respondent's candor in answering such questions.
Nor does the Court find plaintiff's distinction between survey respondents and policy advisors compelling. The Roomsburg declarations demonstrate that the opinions expressed by Air Force personnel are taken into account by policymakers in their formulation of Department programs and procedures. To the extent that the opinions of the survey respondents are incorporated into Department policy, the survey respondents are acting as advisors to Air Force decisionmakers.
Finally, with respect to the issue of confidentiality, plaintiff exclusively focuses on protecting against disclosure of individual responses. However, this is only one of the confidentiality concerns that a respondent might have since anonymity may be compromised in other ways as well. For example, Roomsburg cites an instance where the sample size is so small that a response could be narrowed to an individual respondent. By ensuring complete confidentiality, the Department is able to allay any fears respondents might have about suffering repercussions based upon criticism and critique of Department policies.
Because the release of CATI survey results, whether in the form of subjective opinions or objective statistics, is likely to hamper the flow of candid opinions from Air Force personnel to policymakers, it will impair the policy formulation and decisionmaking processes. Similarly, disclosure of information concerning survey methodology could also prevent the Air Force from seeking information from those most affected by personnel policies. The Court, therefore finds that the information requested by plaintiff falls within Exemption 5 and was rightfully withheld by defendant. Accordingly, the Court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment. An Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will issue.
DATE: September 30, 1991
NORMA HOLLOWAY JOHNSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
ORDER AND JUDGMENT -- September 30, 1991, Filed
Upon consideration of the cross-motions for summary judgment, and in accordance with the accompanying Memorandum Opinion, it is this 30th day of September, 1991,
ORDERED that defendant's motion for summary judgment be, and hereby is, granted; and it is further
ORDERED that judgment be, and hereby is, entered in favor of defendant.
NORMA HOLLOWAY JOHNSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.