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Proposed Rule

Testimony by BBG Employees, Production of Official Records, and Disclosure of Official Information in Legal Proceedings

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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Start Preamble

AGENCY:

Broadcasting Board of Governors.

ACTION:

Proposed Rule; Comment Request.

SUMMARY:

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) seeks public comment on a proposed rule that would govern access to BBG information and records in connection with legal proceedings in which neither the United States nor the BBG is a party. The rule would establish guidelines for use in determining whether BBG employees will be permitted to testify or to provide records relating to their official duties. The rule would also establish procedures that requesters would have to follow when making demands on or requests to a BBG employee for official documents or to provide testimony. The proposed rule will promote uniformity in decisions, conserve the ability of BBG to conduct official business, preserve its employee resources, protect confidential information, provide guidance to requestors, minimize involvement in matters unrelated to its mission and programs, avoid wasteful allocation of agency resources, and avoid spending public time and money for private purposes.

DATES:

Comments must be received on or before April 11, 2007.

ADDRESSES:

Send or deliver comments to the Office of the General Counsel, Broadcasting Board of Governors, 330 Independence Ave., SW., Washington, DC 20237 by mail or fax at (202) 203-4585.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Christopher Veith, Assistant General Counsel, Broadcasting Board of Governors, 330 Independence Ave., SW., Washington, DC 20237, phone: (202) 203-4550 or fax at (202) 203-4585.

End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

The BBG occasionally receives subpoenas and other informal requests for documents and requests for BBG employees to provide testimony or evidence in cases in which the BBG is not a party. Usually these subpoenas or requests are for BBG records that are not available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. The BBG may also receive a request for an Start Printed Page 10955employee to provide testimony relating to materials contained in BBG's official records or to provide testimony or information acquired by a BBG employee during the performance of the employee's official duties.

Although the BBG has rules governing requests for information from the general public, the BBG currently has no regulations governing subpoenas and other informal requests for document production and testimony of BBG employees in legal proceedings. An increase in such requests in recent years warrants adoption of regulations governing their submission, evaluation, and processing. Responding to these requests and subpoenas is not only burdensome, may result in a significant disruption of a BBG employee's work schedule and possibly involve the BBG in issues unrelated to its responsibilities. In order to resolve these problems, many agencies have issued regulations, similar to the proposed regulation, governing the circumstances and manner in which an employee may respond to demands for testimony or for the production of documents. Establishing uniform procedures for legal processes will ensure timely notice and promote centralized decision-making. The United States Supreme Court upheld this type of regulation in United States ex rel. Touhy v. Ragen, 340 U.S. 462 (1951).

Briefly summarized, the proposed rule will prohibit disclosure of nonpublic official records or testimony by the BBG's employees, as defined in part 504.4, unless there is compliance with the rule. The proposed rule sets out the information that requesters must provide and the factors that the BBG will consider in making determinations in response to requests for testimony or the production of documents.

The charges for witnesses are the same as those provided in Federal courts and the fees related to production of records are the same as those charged under FOIA. The charges for time spent by an employee to prepare for testimony and for searches, copying, and certification of records by the BBG are authorized under 31 U.S.C. 9701, which permits an agency to charge for services or things of value that are provided by the agency.

This rule applies to a range of matters in any legal proceeding in which the BBG is not a named party and applies to current and former BBG employees. Both current and former BBG employees are prohibited by 18 U.S.C. 1905 from testifying about specific matters involving information for which they had responsibility during their active employment unless permitted to testify as provided in the rule. They would not be prohibited from testifying about general matters unconnected with the specific BBG matters for which they had responsibility.

This rule will ensure a more efficient use of the BBG's resources, minimize the possibility of involving the BBG in issues unrelated to its responsibilities, promote uniformity in responding to such subpoenas and like requests, and maintain the impartiality of the BBG in matters that are in dispute between other parties. It will also serve the BBG's interest in protecting sensitive, confidential, and privileged information and records that are generated in fulfillment of the BBG's statutory responsibilities.

This rule is internal and procedural rather than substantive. It does not create a right to obtain official records or the official testimony of a BBG employee nor does it create any additional right or privilege not already available to the BBG to deny any demand or request for testimony or documents. Failure to comply with the procedures set out in these regulations would be a basis for denying a demand or request submitted to the BBG.

Start List of Subjects

List of Subjects in 22 CFR Part 504

End List of Subjects

For the reasons stated in the preamble, the Broadcasting Board of Governors proposes to amend 22 CFR, Chapter V, by adding part 504, to read as follows:

Start Part

PART 504—TESTIMONY BY BBG EMPLOYEES, PRODUCTION OF OFFICIAL RECORDS, AND DISCLOSURE OF OFFICIAL INFORMATION IN LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

Subpart A—General Provisions
504.1
Scope and purpose.
504.2
Applicability.
504.3
Definitions.
Subpart B—Demands or Requests for Testimony and Production of Documents
504.4
General prohibition.
504.5
Factors the BBG will consider.
504.6
Filing requirements for litigants seeking documents or testimony.
504.7
Service of requests or demands.
504.8
Processing requests or demands.
504.9
Final determinations.
504.10
Restrictions that apply to testimony.
504.11
Restrictions that apply to released records.
504.12
Procedure when a decision is not made prior to the time a response is required.
504.13
Procedure in the event of an adverse ruling.
Subpart C—Schedule of Fees
504.14
Fees.
Subpart D—Penalties
504.15
Penalties.
Start Authority

Authority: 22 U.S.C. 6204.

End Authority

Subpart A—General Provisions

Scope and purpose.

(a) These regulations in this subpart establish policy, assign responsibilities and prescribe procedures with respect to:

(1) The production or disclosure of official information or records by BBG employees, and

(2) The testimony of current and former BBG employees, relating to official information, official duties, or the BBG's records, in connection with federal or state litigation in which the BBG is not a party.

(b) The BBG intends these provisions to:

(1) Conserve the time of BBG employees for conducting official business;

(2) Minimize the involvement of BBG employees in issues unrelated to BBG's mission;

(3) Maintain the impartiality of BBG employees in disputes between private litigants; and

(4) Protect sensitive, confidential information and the deliberative processes of the BBG.

(c) In providing for these requirements, the BBG does not waive the sovereign immunity of the United States.

(d) This part provides guidance for the internal operations of BBG. It does not create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, that a party may rely upon in any legal proceeding against the United States.

Applicability.

This part applies to demands and requests to current and former employees for factual or expert testimony relating to official information or official duties or for production of official records or information, in legal proceedings in which the BBG is not a named party. This part does not apply to:

(a) Demands upon or requests for a BBG employee to testify as to facts or events that are unrelated to his or her official duties or that are unrelated to the functions of the BBG;

(b) Demands upon or requests for a former BBG employee to testify as to matters in which the former employee was not directly or materially involved while at the BBG;

(c) Requests for the release of records under the Freedom of Information Act, Start Printed Page 109565 U.S.C. 552, or the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. 552a; or

(d) Congressional demands and requests for testimony, records or information.

Definitions.

The following definitions apply to this part:

(a) Demand means an order, subpoena, or other command of a court or other competent authority for the production, disclosure, or release of records or for the appearance and testimony of a BBG employee in a legal proceeding.

(b) General Counsel means the General Counsel of the BBG or a person to whom the General Counsel has delegated authority under this part.

(c) Legal proceeding means any matter before a court of law, administrative board or tribunal, commission, administrative law judge, hearing officer or other body that conducts a legal or administrative proceeding. Legal proceeding includes all phases of litigation.

(d) BBG means the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

(e) BBG employee means:

(1) Any current or former employee of the BBG.

(2) This definition does not include persons who are no longer employed by the BBG and who agree to testify about general matters, matters available to the public, or matters with which they had no specific involvement or responsibility during their employment with the BBG.

(f) Records or official records and information means all information in the custody and control of the BBG, relating to information in the custody and control of the BBG, or acquired by a BBG employee in the performance of his or her official duties or because of his or her official status, while the individual was employed by the BBG.

(g) Request means any informal request, by whatever method, for the production of records and information or for testimony which has not been ordered by a court or other competent authority.

(h) Testimony means any written or oral statements, including depositions, answers to interrogatories, affidavits, declarations, interviews, and statements made by an individual in connection with a legal proceeding.

Subpart B—Demands or Requests for Testimony and Production of Documents

General prohibition.

(a) In any United States federal, state, and local proceeding or administrative action, or proceeding or administrative action conducted in a foreign country, in which the BBG is not a party, no BBG employee shall, in response to a demand or request for official records or information, furnish or produce documents or testimony as to any material contained in BBG files, any information relating to or based upon material contained in BBG files, or any information or material acquired as part of the performance of that person's official duties (or because of that person's official status) without the prior written approval of the General Counsel.

(b) Whenever a request or demand for information is made upon a BBG employee, the employee, wherever located, shall immediately prepare a report that specifically describes the testimony or documents sought and immediately notify the General Counsel. The BBG employee shall then await instructions from the General Counsel concerning a response to the request or demand. The failure of any BBG employee to follow the procedures specified in this subpart neither creates nor confers any rights, privileges, or benefits on any person or party.

Factors the BBG will consider.

The General Counsel, in his or her sole discretion, may grant an employee permission to testify on matters relating to official information, or produce official records and information, in response to a demand or request. Among the relevant factors that the General Counsel may consider in making this decision are whether:

(a) The purposes of this part are met;

(b) Allowing such testimony or production of records would be necessary to prevent a miscarriage of justice;

(c) Allowing such testimony or production of records would assist or hinder the BBG in performing its statutory duties;

(d) Allowing such testimony or production of records would be in the best interest of the BBG or the United States;

(e) The records or testimony can be obtained from other sources;

(f) The demand or request is unduly burdensome or otherwise inappropriate under the applicable rules of discovery or the rules of procedure governing the case or matter in which the demand or request arose;

(g) Disclosure would violate a statute, Executive Order or regulation;

(h) Disclosure would reveal confidential, sensitive, or privileged information, trade secrets or similar, confidential or financial information, otherwise protected information, or information which would otherwise be inappropriate for release;

(i) Disclosure would impede or interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation or proceeding, or compromise constitutional rights or national security interests;

(j) Disclosure would result in the BBG appearing to favor one litigant over another;

(k) Whether the request was served before the demand;

(l) A substantial Government interest is implicated;

(m) The demand or request is within the authority of the party making it; and

(n) The demand or request is sufficiently specific to be answered and/or can be limited to information to that which would be consistent with the factors specified herein.

Filing requirements for litigants seeking documents or testimony.

A litigant must comply with the following requirements when filing a request for official records and information or testimony under this subpart. A request should be filed before a demand.

(a) The request must be in writing and must be submitted to the General Counsel.

(b) The written request must contain the following information:

(1) The caption of the legal proceeding, docket number, and name and address of the court or other authority involved;

(2) A copy of the complaint or equivalent document setting forth the assertions in the case and any other pleading or document necessary to show relevance;

(3) A list of categories of records sought, a detailed description of how the information sought is relevant to the issues in the legal proceeding, and a specific description of the substance of the testimony or records sought;

(4) A statement as to how the need for the information outweighs any need to maintain the confidentiality of the information and outweighs the burden on the BBG to produce the records or provide testimony;

(5) A statement indicating that the information sought is not available from another source, from other persons or entities, or from the testimony of someone other than a BBG employee, such as a retained expert;

(6) If testimony is requested, the intended use of the testimony, and a showing that no document could be provided and used in lieu of testimony;

(7) A description of all prior decisions, orders, or pending motions in Start Printed Page 10957the case that bear upon the relevance of the requested records or testimony;

(8) The name, address, and telephone number of counsel to each party in the case; and

(9) An estimate of the amount of time that the requester and other parties will require for each BBG employee for time spent by the employee to prepare for testimony, in travel, and for attendance in the legal proceeding.

(c) The BBG reserves the right to require additional information to complete the request where appropriate.

(d) The request should be submitted at least 30 days before the date that records or testimony is required. Requests submitted in less than 30 days before records or testimony is required must be accompanied by a written explanation stating the reasons for the late request and the reasons for expedited processing.

(e) Failure to cooperate in good faith to enable the General Counsel to make an informed decision may serve as the basis for a determination not to comply with the request.

(f) The request should state that the requester will provide a copy of the BBG employee's statement free of charge and that the requester will permit the BBG to have a representative present during the employee's testimony.

Service of requests or demands.

Requests or demands for official records or information or testimony under this Subpart must be served on the General Counsel, BBG, 330 Independence Ave., SW., Washington, DC 20237 by mail or fax at (202) 203-4585 and clearly marked “Part 504—Request for Testimony or Official Records in Legal Proceedings.”

Processing requests or demands.

(a) After receiving service of a request or demand for testimony, the General Counsel will review the request and, in accordance with the provisions of this Subpart, determine whether, or under what conditions, to authorize the employee to testify on matters relating to official information and/or produce official records and information.

(b) Absent exigent circumstances, the BBG will issue a determination within 30 days from the date the request is received.

(c) The General Counsel may grant a waiver of any procedure described by this Subpart where a waiver is considered necessary to promote a significant interest of the BBG or the United States, or for other good cause.

(d) Certification (authentication) of copies of records. The BBG may certify that records are true copies in order to facilitate their use as evidence. If a requester seeks certification, the requester must request certified copies from the BBG at least 30 days before the date they will be needed. The request should be sent to the BBG General Counsel.

Final determinations.

The General Counsel makes the final determination on demands or requests to employees for production of official records and information or testimony in litigation in which the BBG is not a party. All final determinations are within the sole discretion of the General Counsel. The General Counsel will notify the requester and, when appropriate, the court or other competent authority of the final determination, the reasons for the grant or denial of the request, and any conditions that the General Counsel may impose on the release of records or information, or on the testimony of a BBG employee. The General Counsel's decision exhausts administrative remedies for discovery of the information.

Restrictions that apply to testimony.

(a) The General Counsel may impose conditions or restrictions on the testimony of BBG employees including, for example:

(1) Limiting the areas of testimony;

(2) Requiring the requester and other parties to the legal proceeding to agree that the transcript of the testimony will be kept under seal;

(3) Requiring that the transcript will be used or made available only in the particular legal proceeding for which testimony was requested. The General Counsel may also require a copy of the transcript of testimony at the requester's expense.

(b) The BBG may offer the employee's written declaration in lieu of testimony.

(c) If authorized to testify pursuant to this part, an employee may testify as to facts within his or her personal knowledge, but, unless specifically authorized to do so by the General Counsel, the employee shall not:

(1) Disclose confidential or privileged information; or

(2) For a current BBG employee, testify as an expert or opinion witness with regard to any matter arising out of the employee's official duties or the functions of the BBG unless testimony is being given on behalf of the United States (see also 5 CFR 2635.805).

(d) The scheduling of an employee's testimony, including the amount of time that the employee will be made available for testimony, will be subject to the BBG's approval.

Restrictions that apply to released records.

(a) The General Counsel may impose conditions or restrictions on the release of official records and information, including the requirement that parties to the proceeding obtain a protective order or execute a confidentiality agreement to limit access and any further disclosure. The terms of the protective order or of a confidentiality agreement must be acceptable to the General Counsel. In cases where protective orders or confidentiality agreements have already been executed, the BBG may condition the release of official records and information on an amendment to the existing protective order or confidentiality agreement.

(b) If the General Counsel so determines, original BBG records may be presented for examination in response to a request, but they may not be presented as evidence or otherwise used in a manner by which they could lose their identity as official BBG records, nor may they be marked or altered. In lieu of the original records, certified copies may be presented for evidentiary purposes.

Procedure when a decision is not made prior to the time a response is required.

If a response to a demand or request is required before the General Counsel can make the determination referred to in Sec. 504.9, the General Counsel, when necessary, will provide the court or other competent authority with a copy of this part, inform the court or other competent authority that the request is being reviewed, provide an estimate as to when a decision will be made, and seek a stay of the demand or request pending a final determination.

Procedure in the event of an adverse ruling.

If the court or other competent authority fails to stay a demand or request, the employee upon whom the demand or request is made, unless otherwise advised by the General Counsel, will appear, if necessary, at the stated time and place, produce a copy of this part, state that the employee has been advised by counsel not to provide the requested testimony or produce documents, and respectfully decline to comply with the demand or request, citing United States ex rel. Touhy v. Ragen, 340 U.S. 462 (1951).

Subpart C—Schedule of Fees

Fees.

(a) Generally. The General Counsel may condition the production of records or appearance for testimony upon Start Printed Page 10958advance payment of a reasonable estimate of the costs to the BBG.

(b) Fees for records. Fees for producing records will include fees for searching, reviewing, and duplicating records, costs of attorney time spent in reviewing the request, and expenses generated by materials and equipment used to search for, produce, and copy the responsive information. Costs for employee time will be calculated on the basis of the hourly pay of the employee (including all pay, allowances, and benefits). Fees for duplication will be the same as those charged by the BBG in its Freedom of Information Act regulations at 22 CFR Part 503.

(c) Witness fees. Fees for attendance by a witness will include fees, expenses, and allowances prescribed by the court's rules. If no such fees are prescribed, witness fees will be determined based upon the rule of the Federal district court closest to the location where the witness will appear and on 28 U.S.C. 1821, as applicable. Such fees will include cost of time spent by the witness to prepare for testimony, in travel and for attendance in the legal proceeding, plus travel costs.

(d) Payment of fees. A requester must pay witness fees for current BBG employees and any record certification fees by submitting to the General Counsel a check or money order for the appropriate amount made payable to the Treasury of the United States. In the case of testimony of former BBG employees, the requester must pay applicable fees directly to the former BBG employee in accordance with 28 U.S.C. 1821 or other applicable statutes.

(e) Waiver or reduction of fees. The General Counsel, in his or her sole discretion, may, upon a showing of reasonable cause, waive or reduce any fees in connection with the testimony, production, or certification of records.

(f) De minimis fees. Fees will not be assessed if the total charge would be $10.00 or less.

Subpart D—Penalties

Penalties.

(a) An employee who discloses official records or information or gives testimony relating to official information, except as expressly authorized by the BBG, or as ordered by a Federal court after the BBG has had the opportunity to be heard, may face penalties as provided in any applicable enforcement statute.

(b) A current BBG employee who testifies or produces official records and information in violation of this part shall be subject to disciplinary action and, if done for a valuable consideration, may subject that person to criminal prosecution.

Start Signature

Dated: March 6, 2007.

Carol F. Baker,

Director, Office of Administration.

End Signature End Part End Supplemental Information

[FR Doc. E7-4329 Filed 3-9-07; 8:45 am]

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