MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question presented is whether § 6 (b) (1) of the Consumer Product Safety Act, 15 U. S. C. § 2055 (b) (1), governs the disclosure of records by the Consumer Product Safety Commission pursuant to a request under the Freedom of Information Act. We granted certiorari to review a judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit because of the importance of the question and because of a conflict in the Circuits.
In 1972, Congress enacted the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), 86 Stat. 1207, 15 U. S. C. § 2051 et seq., in order, inter alia, "to protect the public against unreasonable risks of injury associated with consumer products" and "to assist consumers in evaluating the comparative safety of consumer products." 15 U. S. C. §§ 2051 (b) (1) and (2). The CPSA created the Consumer Product Safety Commission (Commission) to carry out the statutory purposes. 15 U. S. C. § 2053. The Commission's powers include the authority to collect and disseminate product safety information, 15 U. S. C. § 2054 (a) (1), to conduct research and tests on consumer products, 15 U. S. C. §§ 2054 (b) (1) and (2), to promulgate safety standards, 15 U. S. C. § 2056, and to ban hazardous products, 15 U. S. C. § 2057.
The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed. 598 F.2d 790 (1979). After thoroughly examining the language and legislative history of § 6 (b) (1), it concluded that "Congress did not intend that provision to apply only to Commission press releases, news conferences, publication of reports and other forms of `affirmative disclosure' of information obtained under the Act." 598 F. 2d, at 811. Rather, "the information disclosure requirements of the CPSA were meant to protect manufacturers from the harmful effects of inaccurate or misleading public disclosure by the Commission, through any means, of material obtained pursuant to its broad information-gathering powers. The policies designed to be served by section 6 (b) (1) would be severely undermined, if not eviscerated, were the Commission's interpretation to prevail." Id., at 811-812.
We begin with the familiar canon of statutory construction that the starting point for interpreting a statute is the language of the statute itself. Absent a clearly expressed legislative intention to the contrary, that language must ordinarily be regarded as conclusive.
Section 6 (b) (1) by its terms applies to the "public disclosure of any information" obtained by the Commission pursuant to its authority under the CPSA, and to any information "to be disclosed to the public in connection therewith." (Emphasis added.) Nothing in the language of that section, or in any other provision of the CPSA, supports petitioners' claim that § 6 (b) (1) is limited to disclosures initiated by the Commission. And as a matter of common usage the term
Section 6 (b) (2) of the CPSA, 15 U. S. C. § 2055 (b) (2), contains specific exceptions to the requirements of § 6 (b) (1).
Finally, § 25 (c) of the CPSA, 15 U. S. C. § 2074 (c), further supports the conclusion that § 6 (b) (1) was not intended to distinguish between information disclosed to the public
Petitioners next argue that the legislative history of the CPSA requires the conclusion that § 6 (b) (1) is inapplicable to FOIA requests despite the language of the statute. In making their argument, petitioners concede that "the pre-enactment history of this legislation does not directly address the precise issue of statutory construction involved in this case." Brief for Petitioners 33. They nonetheless maintain that the principal concern underlying the adoption of the section was the danger that the Commission might on its own initiative disseminate findings, reports, and other product information harmful to manufacturers without first assuring
The CPSA gave the Commission broad powers to gather, analyze, and disseminate vast amounts of private information. In granting the Commission such authority, Congress adopted safeguards specifically designed to protect manufacturers' reputations from damage arising from improper disclosure of
Nor does the Conference Report contain any suggestion that § 6 (b) (1) does not apply to FOIA requests. As observed by the Court of Appeals, the "conferees' description of section 6 (b) (1) is instructive in that the accuracy and fairness requirements for `publicly disclosed information' are mentioned in almost the same breath as the description of section 6 (a) (1), stating that no information need be `publicly disclosed' by the Commission if it is exempt from disclosure under the FOIA." 598 F. 2d, at 809.
Further support for this construction of § 6 (b) (1) can be found in examining comments made with respect to earlier versions of the House bill.
Section 4 (c) and the provision that was finally enacted as § 6 (b) by their terms include both affirmative disclosures by the Commission and information released pursuant to the FOIA. And the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the agency that drafted H. R. 8110, stated in its section-by-section analysis of the bill:
The legislative history of § 6 (b) (1) thus fails to establish that petitioners' proposed distinction should be read into the section.
Petitioners also contend that legislative interpretations of § 6 (b) (1) made after the section was enacted and the Commission's administrative interpretation of that section support their proposed construction. Petitioners first rely on a statement by Representative Moss, one of the sponsors of the House bill. In testimony before a congressional Oversight Subcommittee, then Commission Chairman Richard O. Simpson explained that the Commission interpreted § 6 (b) (1) to be inapplicable to FOIA requests. Representative Moss then remarked: "As the primary author of both acts, I am inclined to agree with you." Regulatory Reform: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, 94th Cong., 2d Sess., Vol. IV, pp. 7-8 (1976). Petitioners also note that when Congress added § 29 (e), 15 U. S. C. § 2078 (e), to the CPSA in the Consumer Product Safety Commission Improvements Act of 1976, the Conference Committee explained the joint operation of the new section and § 6 (b) as follows:
In evaluating the weight to be attached to these statements, we begin with the oft-repeated warning that "the views of a subsequent Congress form a hazardous basis for inferring the intent of an earlier one." United States v. Price, 361 U.S. 304,
While Representative Moss claimed sponsorship of the CPSA generally, he was not a sponsor of the original bill that ultimately provided that legislation with its provisions governing information disclosure. Rather he authored another bill, H. R. 8157, that contained much less restrictive disclosure requirements than those ultimately adopted.
An examination of the statement of the Conference Committee, as the Court of Appeals concluded, reveals that it also is not persuasive authority in support of petitioners' position. Section 29 (e) by its terms does not purport to interpret the scope of § 6 (b). Rather, it deals solely with the release of accident and investigation reports by the Commission to other agencies. See n. 12, supra. And as the Court of Appeals stated:
In light of this background, the statement of the Conference Committee is far from authoritative as an expression of congressional will under the oft-quoted factors enunciated in Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134, 140 (1944).
Petitioners next argue that the interpretation of § 6 (b) (1) by the Court of Appeals is inconsistent with the FOIA time requirements for the release of information. The FOIA requires an agency to "determine within ten days . . . whether to comply with [an FOIA] request" and to notify the requester "immediately" of the agency's determination. 5 U. S. C. § 552 (a) (6) (A) (i). The FOIA also requires an agency to resolve any administrative appeal of a refusal to disclose within 20 days after the filing of the appeal. § 552 (a) (6) (A) (ii). Petitioners claim that if § 6 (b) (1) applies to FOIA requests the Commission will be unable to comply with FOIA time requirements.
Petitioners' argument assumes that despite the specific procedural safeguards set forth in § 6 (b) (1) the Commission must comply with FOIA time limitations. Federal agencies, however, are granted discretion to refuse FOIA requests when the requested material falls within one of the nine statutory exemptions set forth in 5 U. S. C. § 552 (b). Exemption 3 of the FOIA, 5 U. S. C. § 552 (b) (3), states that the FOIA does not apply to matters that are
Finally, petitioners argue that requiring the Commission to comply with § 6 (b) (1) in meeting FOIA requests will impose insurmountable burdens on the agency. In making this claim, petitioners state that the Commission receives nearly 8,000 FOIA requests annually. The extent to which these requests will present problems of fairness and accuracy with respect to the information released by the Commission is entirely speculative. And in light of the fact that Exemption 3 is applicable to the disclosure of information controlled by § 6 (b) (1), we do not think these burdens will prove to be unbearable. Most importantly, our interpretation of the language and legislative history of § 6 (b) (1) reveals that any increased burdens imposed on the Commission as a result of its compliance with § 6 (b) (1) were intended by Congress in striking an appropriate balance between the interests of
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is
"(a) (1) Nothing contained in this Act shall be deemed to require the release of any information described by subsection (b) of section 552, title 5, United States Code, or which is otherwise protected by law from disclosure to the public.
"(2) All information reported to or otherwise obtained by the Commission or its representative under this Act which information contains or relates to a trade secret or other matter referred to in section 1905 of title 18, United States Code, shall be considered confidential and shall not be disclosed, except that such information may be disclosed to other officers or employees concerned with carrying out this Act or when relevant in any proceeding under this Act. Nothing in this Act shall authorize the withholding of information by the Commission or any officer or employee under its control from the duly authorized committees of the Congress.
"(b) (1) Except as provided by paragraph (2) of this subsection, not less than 30 days prior to its public disclosure of any information obtained under this Act, or to be disclosed to the public in connection therewith (unless the Commission finds out that the public health and safety requires a lesser period of notice), the Commission shall, to the extent practicable, notify, and provide a summary of the information to, each manufacturer or private labeler of any consumer product to which such information pertains, if the manner in which such consumer product is to be designated or described in such information will permit the public to ascertain readily the identity of such manufacturer or private labeler, and shall provide such manufacturer or private labeler with a reasonable opportunity to submit comments to the Commission in regard to such information. The Commission shall take reasonable steps to assure, prior to its public disclosure thereof, that information from which the identity of such manufacturer or private labeler may be readily ascertained is accurate, and that such disclosure is fair in the circumstances and reasonably related to effectuating the purposes of this Act. If the Commission finds that, in the administration of this Act, it has made public disclosure of inaccurate or misleading information which reflects adversely upon the safety of any consumer product, or the practices of any manufacturer, private labeler, distributor, or retailer of consumer products, it shall, in a manner similar to that in which such disclosure was made, publish a retraction of such inaccurate or misleading information.
"(2) Paragraph (1) (except for the last sentence thereof) shall not apply to the public disclosure of (A) information about any consumer product with respect to which product the Commission has filed an action under section 12 (relating to imminently hazardous products), or which the Commission has reasonable cause to believe is in violation of section 19 (relating to prohibited acts), or (B) information in the course of or concerning any administrative or judicial proceeding under this Act." 86 Stat. 1212, 15 U. S. C. § 2055.
"Subject to sections 2055 (a) (2) and 2055 (b) of this title but notwithstanding section 2055 (a) (1) of this title, (1) any accident or investigation report made under this chapter by an officer or employee of the Commission shall be made available to the public in a manner which will not identify any injured person or any person treating him, without the consent of the person so identified, and (2) all reports on research projects, demonstration projects, and other related activities shall be public information."
"Authority to collect and disseminate information carries with it a responsibility not to disclose data that may injure a company or reveal confidential information. A statute establishing a standards-setting agency should state explicitly, as do many other federal statutes, that confidential data are not to be disseminated. A statute should also assure that any information to be made public is accurate, and that if it is derogatory the company it identifies has had an opportunity to refute it. H. R. 8110 contains provisions in § 4 (c) that would accomplish this." Id., at 1237 (emphasis added).
"(1) Nothing contained in this Act shall be deemed to require the release of any information described by subsection (b) of section 552, title 5, United States Code, or which is otherwise protected by law from disclosure to the public. The Secretary shall not make public information obtained by him under this Act which would disclose trade secrets, formulas, processes, costs, methods of doing business, or other competitive information not otherwise available to the general public; or the names or other means of identification of ill or injured persons without their express written consent.
"(2) (A) Except as provided by subparagraph (B) of this paragraph, not less than thirty days prior to his public disclosure of any information obtained under this Act, or to be disclosed to the public in connection therewith, the Secretary shall provide such information to each manufacturer of any consumer product to which such information pertains, if the manner in which such consumer product is to be designated or described in such information will permit the public to ascertain readily the identity of such manufacturer, and shall provide such manufacturer with a reasonable opportunity to submit comments to the Secretary in regard to such information. Upon the request of such manufacturer, the Secretary shall publish such comments or a fair summary thereof, or a statement of the manufacturer of reasonable length in lieu thereof, concurrently and in association with the disclosure of the information to which such comments or statement appertain. The Secretary shall take reasonable steps to assure, prior to his public disclosure thereof, that information from which the identity of such manufacturer may be readily ascertained is accurate, and that such disclosure is fair in the circumstances and reasonably related to effectuating the purposes of this Act. If the Secretary finds that, in the administration of this Act, he has made public disclosure of inaccurate or misleading information which reflects adversely upon the safety of any consumer product, or the practices of any manufacturer of, distributor of, importer of, or dealer in consumer products, he shall, in a manner similar to that in which such disclosure was made, publish a retraction of such inaccurate or misleading information.
"(B) Subparagraph (A) (except for the last sentence thereof) shall not apply to the public disclosure of (i) information about any consumer product with respect to which product the Attorney General has filed an action (or an action against a manufacturer thereof with respect to such product) under section 12, or which the Secretary has reasonable cause to believe is in violation of section 15, or (ii) information about any administrative or judicial proceeding under this Act."
Although the bill passed by the Senate omitted these safeguards, see S. Rep. No. 92-749, pp. 49, 51 (1972), the bill passed by the House, H. R. 1503, incorporated the administration's proposal in this regard. See H. R. Rep. No. 92-1153, pp. 5, 24 (1972). The information disclosure limitations contained in H. R. 15003 were accepted by the Conference Committee and ultimately became law. See H. R. Conf. Rep. No. 92-1593, p. 7 (1972).
"The Commission was directed to take steps to assure that publicly disclosed information from which specific manufacturers or distributors could be identified was accurate and that the disclosure was fair in the circumstances and reasonably related to carrying out its duties. No information would be required to be publicly disclosed if it is information described in section 552 (b), title 5, United States Code (relating to information which is entitled to be protected from public access under the Freedom of Information Act), or which is otherwise protected by law from disclosure to the public." Id., at 41.
"The Commission may provide to another Federal agency or a State or local agency or authority engaged in activities relating to health, safety, or consumer protection, copies of any accident or investigation report made under this Act by any officer, employee, or agent of the Commission only if (1) information which under section 6 (a) (2) is to be considered confidential is not included in any copy of such report which is provided under this subsection; and (2) each Federal agency and State and local agency and authority which is to receive under this subsection a copy of such report provides assurances satisfactory to the Commission that the identity of any injured person and any person who treated an injured person will not, without the consent of the person identified, be included in—
"(A) any copy of any such report, or
"(B) any information contained in any such report,
"which the agency or authority makes available to any member of the public. No Federal agency or State or local agency or authority may disclose to the public any information contained in a report received by the agency or authority under this subsection unless with respect to such information the Commission has complied with the applicable requirements of section 6 (b)."
The less formal types of subsequent legislative history provide an extremely hazardous basis for inferring the meaning of a congressional enactment. While such history is sometimes considered relevant, this is because, as Mr. Chief Justice Marshall stated in United States v. Fisher, 2 Cranch 358, 386 (1805): "Where the mind labours to discover the design of the legislature, it seizes every thing from which aid can be derived." See Andrus v. Shell Oil Co., 446 U.S. 657, 666, n. 8 (1980). Such history does not bear strong indicia of reliability, however, because as time passes memories fade and a person's perception of his earlier intention may change. Thus, even when it would otherwise be useful, subsequent legislative history will rarely override a reasonable interpretation of a statute that can be gleaned from its language and legislative history prior to its enactment.
"When the Commission finds that publication of any information obtained by it is in the public interest and would not give an unfair competitive advantage to any person, it is authorized to publish such information in the form and manner deemed best adapted for public use, except that data and information which relates to a trade secret, shall be held confidential and shall not be disclosed, unless the Commission determines that it is necessary to carry out the purposes of this Act." Subcommittee Hearings, pt. 1, p. 68-69.
"Believing that the decision misconceives the intent of exemption (3), the committee recommends that the exemption be amended to exempt only material required to be withheld from the public by any statute establishing particular criteria or referring to particular types of information. The committee is of the opinion that this change would eliminate the gap created in the Freedom of Information Act by the Robertson case without in any way endangering statutes such as the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, 42 U. S. C. §§ 2161-2166, which provides explicitly for the protection of certain nuclear data.
"Under the amendment, the provision of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 that was the subject of Robertson, and which affords the FAA Administrator cart blanche [sic] to withhold any information he pleases, would not come within exemption 3. . . ." H. R. Rep. No. 94-880, pt. 1, p. 23 (1976).
"Any person may make written objection to the public disclosure of information contained in any application, report, or document filed pursuant to the provisions of this Act or of information obtained by the Board or the Administrator, pursuant to the provisions of this Act, stating the grounds for such objection. Whenever such objection is made, the Board or Administrator shall order such information withheld from public disclosure when, in their judgment, a disclosure of such information would adversely affect the interests of such person and is not required in the interest of the public. The Board or Administrator shall be responsible for classified information in accordance with appropriate law: Provided, That nothing in this section shall authorize the withholding of information by the Board or Administrator from the duly authorized committees of the Congress." § 1104, 72 Stat. 797, 49 U. S. C. § 1504.