Our Man In Washington: Helping Environmental Volunteers Gain Access to Government Information

Highlights from a 1973 National Center for Voluntary Action (NCVA) report offering recommendations to redress the complaints of environmental volunteers and improve access to government information.

| March/April 1973

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Environmental activists really need more cooperation when seeking access to government information.


President Nixon, in his inaugural address, called for more volunteer action and less reliance on the government. Rewriting John F. Kennedy's popular maxim of a decade ago, the President said: "Ask not just what wilt government do for me, but what I can do for myself."

Environmental groups, of course, have actively espoused "volunteerism" for years. They have been doing exactly what the President has advocated. Yet a new government-funded study offers considerable evidence that the Nixon administration has actually worked to discourage effective citizen participation.

This is documented in a 600-page study, prepared under the auspices of the National Center for Voluntary Action, which offers the first comprehensive took at volunteer environments! groups across the nation. Nearly a year in the making, the report reflects views from more than 600 environmental organizations. Interestingly enough, despite the current administration's neglect, the overall forecast for the ecology movement appears hopeful.

"Our questionnaire data clearly shows," the report says, "that growth in volunteer action, which appears to have surged around the time of Earth Day (April 22, 1970), has continued since." A clear majority of the groups report growth in both total membership and the number of environmentally active (so-called "hard core") members. Only 13 percent of the 600 organizations responding to the questionnaire report a decline in total membership .  

At the same time, however, the study uses strong language in charging that government agencies especially the Environmental Protection Agency are "defaulting on their basic responsibility to aggressively promote citizen participation".

The report cites, for example, the frequent complaints of ecology groups that government agencies and private industries cooperate in refusing to release basic information that the volunteers need. "The information willingly provided by government and industry, sometimes in great quantities, seems self-serving." In contrast, the Information that environmentalists really need to develop responsible positions "is usually provided grudgingly if at all".

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