Hot Docs: Treasury's Help for Homeowners, New FOIA Rules

Today's selection of timely reports.

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Help for Homeowners: The Treasury Department, along with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has launched a website to help citizens determine their eligibility for the government's Making Home Affordable program. The program, announced by President Obama in February, is designed to offer assistance to 7 million to 9 million homeowners facing difficulties meeting their mortgage payments. The new website includes tools to allow borrowers to determine if they are eligible for the program, and it has a calculator feature to estimate any reduction in their mortgage payment. The department also announced a new program to help the auto industry. The Auto Supplier Support Program will "provide up to $5 billion in financing, giving suppliers the confidence they need to continue shipping parts, pay their employees, and continue their operations." Treasury notes that the auto suppliers industry employs more than 500,000 workers across the country.

Justice Issues New FOIA Rules: The Justice Department has issued new Freedom of Information Act guidelines that set forth a "presumption of disclosure" and rescind those issued by former Attorney General John Ashcroft Oct. 12, 2001. Attorney General Eric Holder says that by "restoring the presumption of disclosure that is at the heart of the Freedom of Information Act, we are making a critical change that will restore the public's ability to access information in a timely manner." The new rules apply to all executive branch departments and agencies. Among other things, they mandate that records should not be withheld on technicalities, that records should be released in part when they cannot be released in full, that effective systems should be in place for handling requests, and that agency FOIA officers must report to the Justice Department annually on their "progress in improving FOIA administration."

Judicial Conference Tries to Make It Simple: The Code of Conduct for United States Judges, in its first substantial revision in 17 years, has been condensed and rewritten to put it into "plainer, clearer English." The revision was adopted by the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking body of the federal judiciary. The conference took seven rules and turned them into five and, for the first time, defined the term "appearance of impropriety." Under the new rule, "an appearance of impropriety occurs when reasonable minds, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances disclosed by a reasonable inquiry, would conclude that the judge's honesty, integrity, impartiality, temperament, or fitness to serve as a judge is impaired." The revisions, which include provisions on the obligations of judges who learn of violations, go into effect July 1.