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A $1 million grant pledged by the Pentagon to a Texas law school has sparked a controversy over the federal government’s perceived interest in limiting the scope of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the name of national security. The grant, earmarked for the Center for Terrorism Law at San Antonio-based St. Mary’s University School of Law to fund a study of the 40-year-old FOIA, was approved by Congress as a U.S. Department of Defense appropriation. While the money has been appropriated, the school has not yet completed the process of submitting a final proposal, school officials said. Several publications have reported that the study’s goal was to look for ways that the government could limit the scope of FOIA. School officials say that is not the intent. According to a university statement, the study will attempt to reconcile “how various state governments have chosen to balance the issue of increased security concerns and the protection of civil liberties.” The university said that the grant “is not designed to assist the Department of Defense, Pentagon or individual states to weaken” FOIA laws. The proposal recommends that a national conference be convened to discuss FOIA with experts in the public and private sectors, and that “if model legislation were to be proposed, it would be the result of the outcome and dialogue at the national conference.” A spokesman for the Pentagon did not return calls seeking comment. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, a 1977 law graduate of St. Mary’s, responded to what he called the “dramatically misstated purpose” of the study with a commentary in the July 23 issue of the San Antonio Express-News. “[T]he research will not affect [FOIA] in any way. It will, however, seek to determine whether the spirit of FOIA-facilitating the free flow of information-is being compromised by recent state laws,” Cornyn wrote. But Charles Davis, a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said that he found the grant “rather curious.” “It is interesting to start a study that has a controlling thesis at the outset,” he said. Randy Sanders, president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said that there are “already a bunch of hoops you have to jump through to get information. Whenever anybody gets to fine-tune FOIA, it makes me nervous. “As much as I’d like to think the government is looking out for the citizens, I am afraid that the government is looking out for the government,” Sanders said.

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