Judiciary Committee Unanimously Approves Cornyn-Leahy FOIA Improvement Act

WASHINGTON (Thursday, February 5, 2015) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a bipartisan bill authored by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that strengthens the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the nation’s premier open government law.

The FOIA Improvement Act, which the Senators introduced earlier this week, 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.

“Having an open and accessible government is critical for Americans to hold their elected officials accountable,” Senator Cornyn said. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant to root out corruption, and I’m pleased to continue to work with Sen. Leahy and Sen. Grassley to shed more light on the federal government.”

“Senator Cornyn and I have a strong partnership, and we are determined to make progress on creating a more open and transparent government for all Americans,” Senator Leahy said. “The FOIA Improvement Act of 2015 reflects the input of both sides of the aisle, the open government community, the Administration, and many other stakeholders. It is the product of careful negotiations, and it marks an historic step forward in our continued effort to open the government. The Senate should take up and pass this bill so it can be considered by the House and enacted this year.”

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), an original cosponsor of the bill, said: “Transparency yields accountability—something our federal government needs more of.  I’m grateful for the efforts of Ranking Member Leahy and Senator Cornyn to improve government accountability through the FOIA process, and I’m happy my colleagues agreed to swiftly report the FOIA Improvement Act out of committee.”

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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