As FOIA Anniversary Approaches, Leahy Calls For Passage Of ‘Faster FOIA Act’

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, June 27, 2012) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a congressional leader in open government issues, today marked the upcoming 46th anniversary of the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Under Leahy’s leadership, the public’s right to know has been bolstered in recent years through a number of legislative victories. Leahy is urging passage in the House of Representatives of the bipartisan Faster FOIA Act, which Leahy authored with Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas).  The bill has twice won unanimous approval in the Senate this Congress.  Leahy and Cornyn have teamed together through the years to promote bipartisan legislation to strengthen FOIA, the nation’s premier open government law.

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On The 46th Anniversary Of The Enactment Of The Freedom Of Information Act

June 27, 2012

On July 4th, the nation will celebrate the 46th anniversary of the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  The “right to know” is a cornerstone of our Democracy.  For five decades, Americans have counted on FOIA to help shed light on the activities of their government. 

As we reach this important milestone, there are many important victories to celebrate.  This week, the Senate passed the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, including important language that I helped craft to protect the public’s ability to access information under FOIA.  Section 710 of the bill, which is now set to become law, will allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to obtain information about drug inspections and drug investigations undertaken by foreign governments, while at the same time ensuring that the American public has access to information about potential health and safety dangers.  I thank Senators Harkin and Enzi and the many open government and consumer groups -- including OpenTheGovernment.org and Public Citizen -- that worked with me to enact this FOIA provision.

Last year, the Senate – twice – unanimously passed the Faster FOIA Act, a bill that I cosponsored with Republican Senator John Cornyn.  This legislation would create a bipartisan panel of government and outside experts to make recommendations on improving the FOIA process.  Sadly, despite the overwhelming and bipartisan support for this good government legislation, this bill has been languishing in the House of Representatives for almost a year.

In the three years since President Obama made an historic commitment to restoring the presumption of openness in our government, the Obama administration has also taken steps to strengthen FOIA.  I especially want to commend the Office of Government Information Services -- and the inaugural Director of the OGIS, Miriam Nisbet -- for working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Commerce to develop an online FOIA Module designed to help agencies better meet their requirements under the FOIA.  This new FOIA program reaffirms the President’s commitment to transparency in our government and the FOIA module will make government information more accessible to the American people.

While these and other FOIA accomplishments give us good reasons to celebrate, many other threats to the public’s right to access information under FOIA remain.  In the coming weeks, the Senate is expected to consider several legislative exemptions to FOIA in relation to cybersecurity legislation.   As this legislative process unfolds, I intend to work with Members on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the American public’s ability to access information about threats to their health and safety in cyberspace is protected.

Securing our Nation’s critical infrastructure information is a pressing national priority.  So, too, is protecting the rights of Americans to know what their government is doing. 

We must strike a careful balance between security and openness in our cybersecurity policies.  The anniversary of FOIA’s enactment provides a timely reminder of just how important it is for the Congress to get that balance right. 

As I have said many time before, open government is neither a Democratic issue, nor a Republican issue – it is truly an American value and virtue that we all must uphold.  It is in this bipartisan spirit that I will continue to work to fulfill FOIA’s promise of openness in our government and that I join all Americans in celebrating the 46th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act. 

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