To the Editor:
The Acadia National Park superintendent has announced that, due to alleged Privacy Act concerns, comments on the park’s draft transportation plan will not be made available to the public. This is legally dubious and also mischievous as a matter of public policy.
When it invited comments on the draft transportation plan, the National Park Service advised persons interested in filing comments that “your entire comment (including your personally identifiable information) may be made publicly available at any time.” This advice reflected the determination by government lawyers who routinely administer notice-and-comment rulemaking that the Privacy Act definitely permits publication of comments and does not preclude publication of the names of commenters.
The contrary position announced in the story in last week’s Islander, that not even comments themselves may be revealed to the public, appears mistaken and ill-informed.
But there is a deeper problem here. The park’s failure to acknowledge, publish and explicitly address submitted comments is incompatible with the diligence and transparency that federal notice-and-comment rulemaking is intended to achieve. The park’s evident desire to proceed behind closed doors creates the impression, and fosters the suspicion, that the park has been flooded with adverse criticism that it has no intention of addressing on the merits.
That suspicion may be well-founded. When the park superintendent says, as he does, that he expects the park’s “preferred alternative” will only be “tweaked a little bit” in the course of notice-and-comment rulemaking, it seems clear that the park intends to go forward with its “preferred alternative,” with at most a little “tweaking,” without regard to the nature and volume of the comments it receives.
That attitude reveals an unwholesome bureaucratic resistance to public participation in decisions that directly affect the public interest.
Keith A. Jones, Bar Harbor