Opinion for the Court filed by District Judge HAROLD H. GREENE.
This Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
By letters dated April 20, 1982, NTEU, which represents USCS employees, filed
Appellants first contend that the affidavits submitted to the District Court were conclusory and did not "describe the documents and the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail," Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C.Cir.1981), and therefore cannot support a grant of summary judgment under the rule of Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C.Cir.1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977, 94 S.Ct. 1564, 39 L.Ed.2d 873 (1974). The index required by Vaughn is designed to permit adequate adversary testing of the agency's claimed right to an exemption. Mead Data Central v. United States Department of Air Force, 566 F.2d 242, 251 (D.C.Cir.1977); Vaughn, 484 F.2d at 828. A claim of exemption will be honored when the agency meets its burden of showing that the withheld records are actually of such a character as to fit one or more of the section 552(b) exemptions. Shaw v. FBI, 749 F.2d 58, 61 (D.C.Cir.1984).
Upon its review of the agency affidavits, the District Court concluded that they were adequate to satisfy the requirements of Vaughn. We see no reason for disagreeing with that conclusion. The issues in this case were relatively simple and straightforward. All of the documents were withheld under a single exemption. Compare Vaughn, 484 F.2d at 827-28. The documents, while numerous, were all of the same general type and all had the same purpose. The agency's theory regarding each crediting plan was the same: that disclosure would compromise the fairness and reliability of the promotion process and thus have the effect of circumventing agency efforts designed to protect that process.
More specifically, the deleted material was described as either (1) "qualifying language used in each criteria to evaluate the experience claimed by each candidate" or (2) specific "examples of experience under each criteria" which the agency considered relevant to its rating.
Exemption (b)(2) covers materials "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(2). The court below analyzed the case under the two-prong test applied to claims for (b)(2) exemptions in Crooker v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, 670 F.2d 1051, 1074 (D.C.Cir.1981) (en banc). That test asks (1) whether the document meets a test of predominant internality and (2) whether disclosure would significantly risk circumvention of agency regulations or statutes. We agree with the District Court's reliance on Crooker even though this case does not snugly fit that decision's reference to agency regulations and statutes. See Part IV, infra.
The Crooker test was a response to the difficulties that had arisen in applying the language of exemption (b)(2) to particular cases. In Crooker itself, for example, the appellant had sought the release of portions of an agent's training manual from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). The requested material consisted of instructions to the BATF agents on the conduct of their official duties, and in that respect it was obviously related to "personnel rules and practices of an agency." The more difficult question, however, was whether the material related solely to internal personnel rules and practices, and in that respect it was illustrative of many exemption (b)(2) issues.
On the one hand, as we acknowledged in Crooker, every action of the federal government has in one sense "some effect on the public-at-large," Crooker, 670 F.2d at 1073, for "`there are few events in our society today that occur without so much as a tiny ripple effect outside their area of prime impact.'" Id. at 1073 (quoting Vaughn v. Rosen, 523 F.2d 1136, 1150 (D.C.Cir.1975) (Leventhal, J., concurring)). Thus, government records that relate to the management of agency employees will almost never qualify as records "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency" if the statutory language is narrowly construed. On the other hand, however, this Court was able in Crooker to conclude from the legislative history of the FOIA that Congress intended the exemption to be broad enough to cover personnel rules and practices that are "not `the subject of legitimate public interest.'" Id. at 1065.
The parties to the instant appeal agree that the Crooker test governs this case, but they disagree as to the appropriate result when Crooker is applied to these facts. Before addressing the legal questions raised by the parties, it is useful to analyze the practical reasons underlying USCS's reluctance to disclose the plans, as well as NTEU's policy arguments in favor of disclosure. See Ginsburg, Feldman and Bress v. Federal Energy Administration, 591 F.2d 717, 730 (D.C.Cir.), aff'd on reh'g by an equally divided en banc court, 591 F.2d 752 (1978), cert. denied, 441 U.S. 906, 99 S.Ct. 1994, 60 L.Ed.2d 374 (1979).
The Service regards crediting plans as being tantamount to lists of examination questions, and it argues that disclosure of the plans would undercut the personnel evaluation process they are designed to assist, providing those who have access to the crediting plans (through NTEU or otherwise) with an unfair advantage over other
The crediting plans are designed to measure actual experience and proven ability; it would seem to follow, in theory, that advance knowledge of their content should not affect the rating of the candidates. But the theoretical assumption is valid only if all applicants can be depended upon to be meticulously correct in describing their past experience and their quantified or quantifiable abilities. The uncontradicted affidavits of agency officials lead to the conclusion, however, that advance knowledge of the plans by applicants would allow and induce at least some of them to embellish — or perhaps even fabricate — their backgrounds to suit the appropriate crediting plan.
On this basis, we agree with the USCS contention
NTEU argues that this risk, even if it does exist, does not sustain application of the section (b)(2) exemption under Crooker unless the Service is also able to demonstrate that "disclosure significantly risks
The Manual further specifies that such materials "shall be controlled and safeguarded because their release would be detrimental to the validity and fairness of the evaluation process...." From the foregoing discussion of the risks created by release of the crediting plans, it is apparent that disclosure in this case would run counter to the directive of subchapter S6-1.
Nevertheless, we do not regard these regulatory provisions as dispositive of the issue before us for the reason that an agency cannot be regarded as having satisfied the second prong of the Crooker test simply by promulgating a regulation
Normally, an agency will be unable to satisfy the Crooker test unless it identifies such a statute or regulation and persuades the reviewing court that disclosure of the disputed documents will facilitate conduct that the statute or regulation proscribes. That was the case in Crooker itself, where disclosure of manuals used by law enforcement personnel would have made it easier for criminals to violate statutes regulating the use of tobacco, alcohol and firearms. Accord Founding Church of Scientology of Washington, D.C. v. Smith, 721 F.2d 828 (D.C.Cir.1983); Hardy v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 631 F.2d 653 (9th Cir.1980); Caplan v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 587 F.2d 544 (2d Cir.1978).
Although the Service cannot here rely on a specific statute or regulation (other than subchapter S6-1 discussed above), the instant case is nevertheless factually very similar to Crooker and controlled by that decision. There, it was found that disclosure of the investigative strategy used by BATF agents to detect criminal violators would make that detection more difficult. Here, it is apparent that disclosure of the evaluative criteria used by USCS personnel will make it more difficult correctly to evaluate job candidates. Like Crooker, this is a case where disclosure of certain government documents would quickly render those documents obsolete for the purpose for which they were designed.
Obviously, the operations for which such documents are designed must themselves be legitimate activities of government, authorized by statute. Exemption (b)(2) emphatically does not authorize the promulgation of "secret law" governing members of the public, and such documents would be unprotected whether or not disclosure threatened to make them operationally obsolete. See Department of the Air Force, 425 U.S. at 369, 96 S.Ct. at 1603; Crooker, 670 F.2d at 1073. That is not the case here, however. The crediting plans do not regulate the conduct of members of the public; rather, they are concerned only with the core personnel functions of hiring and promotion. Evaluative criteria of this type have customarily been safeguarded in both the public and private sectors, and it seems plain that Congress meant to protect such material under exemption (b)(2).
Whatever else may be included within exemption (b)(2), we are of the view that Congress meant to include materials traditionally used by personnel officials to evaluate candidates for job promotion. First, these materials fall squarely within the statutory language: matters "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency." Although, as we have noted, appointment decisions, like any government activity, have some impact upon the public, the appointments of individual members of the lower federal bureaucracy is primarily a question of "internal" significance for the agencies involved.
The District Court correctly decided that the crediting plans are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, and its decision is therefore
J.A. at 48.
Similarly, William R. Irvin, an official of the Office of Personnel Management, stated in his affidavit that if the information were released, individuals could tailor their applications to inflate scores. J.A. at 38-42.