Cornyn & Leahy Introduce FOIA Legislation

Senators Call for Swift Passage of Bipartisan Legislation that Promotes Transparency

WASHINGTON (Monday, February 2, 2015) –Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) reintroduced on Monday their bipartisan legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is an original cosponsor of the bill.

The FOIA Improvement Act is nearly identical to the bill that unanimously passed the Senate last December. The bill requires Federal agencies to operate under a “presumption of openness” when considering the release of government information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and it aims to reduce the overuse of exemptions to withhold information from the public. The legislation also provides the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), an office created by the Leahy-Cornyn OPEN Government Act in 2007 to help mediate FOIA disputes, with additional independence and authority to carry out its work.

“An open and transparent government is the linchpin of American democracy, and I’m pleased to continue my partnership with Senator Leahy to improve this important law as we work together with our colleagues in the House to promote greater accountability for the American people from their government,” Senator Cornyn said.

“Senator Cornyn and I have worked together for more than a decade to make our government more open.  We have a strong partnership, and we will not quit.  So we are back again this year and determined to make progress in creating a more open and transparent government for all Americans,” Senator Leahy said.  “I urge the Senate to quickly take up and pass this bill and for the House to follow suit so we can show the American people—in a bipartisan fashion—that we are committed to advancing their interest above special interest, no matter who holds control of Congress or the White House.”

Senator Grassley said: “The government ought to be accountable to the people, and transparency yields accountability. Unfortunately, federal agencies continue to find creative ways to avoid the level of transparency that FOIA was designed to foster.  This bill takes an important step to ensure that agencies won’t be able to hide behind an exemption solely to protect their public image. Instead, it requires agencies to disclose information unless they reasonably foresee that disclosure would harm an interest that an exemption protects.  Agencies also need flexibility to process and respond to their FOIA requests, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. This bill strikes the right balance.”

In addition to the 2007 OPEN Government Act, Leahy and Cornyn worked together in 2009 on the OPEN FOIA Act, which requires Congress to clearly state its intentions when providing statutory exemptions to FOIA in new legislation. In 2012, the two successfully steered to Senate passage the Faster FOIA Act, to curb the growing backlogs of FOIA requests and reduce delays in granting requests.

An outline of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015 can be found here, and text of legislation can be found online.

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