Nate Jones of the National Security Archive has this excellent article on the overuse of FOIA Exemption 5 which protects privileged information. The article gives real examples of when its been used to protect material that isn't protectible in any event and also quotes the Department of Justice as incorrectly understanding its own policies (all Exemption 5 privileges are subject to discretionary release not just the deliberative process privilege).
I think two things should be done to limit the use of Exemption 5. First, the foreseeable harm standard set forth in the current Attorney General's Memo on the FOIA from 2009 should be put into the actual law itself. This standard was recently passed by the House in its latest FOIA amendment that is awaiting Senate action. Second, I think a time limit of no more than 10 years should be placed on the use of this exemption. Thus, any document from 2004 or earlier would not be allowed to be withheld pursuant to this protection. And for those who think this suggestion would not work, please take a look at the Presidential Records Act where this type of standard is already in play- if otherwise Exemption 5 documents make it to the Presidential papers, they are released - and thus far our democracy has survived even if some workers have to do so "in a fishbowl."
It's really time to think about the basic reasons why the exemption exists in the first place and curb its overuse. Its in everyones best interests.