03.15.10

Leahy, Cornyn Commemorate Sunshine Week With Faster FOIA Act Introduction

Bipartisan Bill To Help Identify Ways To Reduce FOIA Delays

WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today will introduce bipartisan legislation to make further improvements to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the nation’s premier open government law.  Leahy is a longtime leader on FOIA issues, and has led efforts to make the federal government more open and transparent to the people it represents.

This week marks the sixth annual Sunshine Week, a national observance of the importance of an open and transparent government.  Leahy partnered with Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to author the Faster FOIA Act, which will establish an advisory panel to examine agency backlogs in processing FOIA requests.  Under the legislation, the panel, named the Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays, will be required to provide to Congress recommendations for legislative and administrative action to enhance agency responses to FOIA requests.  The panel will be required to identify methods to reduce delays in the processing of FOIA requests, and will be charged with examining whether the system for charging fees and granting fee waivers under FOIA should be reformed in order to reduce delays in processing fee requests.

“I am pleased to join with Senator Cornyn to introduce the Faster FOIA Act,” said Leahy.  “The Faster FOIA Act will help to address agency FOIA backlogs by establishing a bipartisan Commission to examine the root causes of agency delay.  I have said many times that open government is neither a Democratic issue, nor a Republican issue – it is truly an American value and virtue that we all must uphold.  As we celebrate Sunshine Week, I hope all Senators will join us to support this legislation.” 

“Sen. Leahy and I have fought for years to make our government more transparent, and I am pleased to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation as we commence national Sunshine Week,” said Cornyn.  “This Faster FOIA Act would identify methods to reduce delays in the processing of FOIA requests and ensure the efficient and equitable administration of FOIA throughout the federal government.”

Leahy and Cornyn first introduced the Faster FOIA Act in 2005.  In past years, they have authored successful legislation to make important reforms to FOIA, including the OPEN Government Act, which made the first major reforms to FOIA in more than a decade.  The OPEN Government Act was signed into law in 2007.  In 2009, Leahy and Cornyn authored the OPEN FOIA Act, which mandated greater transparency for legislative exemptions to FOIA.  The legislation was signed into law in October.

Leahy was installed in the Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame in 1996.  In 2009, he was awarded the Robert Vaughn FOIA Legend Award

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Committee On The Judiciary,
On Introduction Of The “Faster FOIA Act Of 2010”
March 15, 2010

MR. PRESIDENT.   This week, the Nation commemorates Sunshine Week – a time to educate the public about the importance of open government.   In recognition of Sunshine Week 2010, I am pleased to join with Senator Cornyn to introduce the Faster FOIA Act of 2010, a bill to improve the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 

Senator Cornyn and I first introduced this bill in 2005 to address the growing problem of excessive FOIA delays within our Federal agencies.   Our decision to reintroduce the faster FOIA Act this year is the most recent example of bipartisan efforts to help reinvigorate FOIA.  

Today, thanks to the reforms contained in the Leahy-Cornyn OPEN Government Act of 2007, millions of Americans who seek information under FOIA will experience a process that is much more transparent and less burdened by delays.  In 2009, President Obama signed the OPEN FOIA Act into law.  That bill is the result of another successful collaboration by Senator Cornyn and me that is making the process for creating new legislative exemptions to FOIA more transparent. 

While both of these legislative accomplishments are strengthening FOIA, more reforms are needed.  

According to the Department of Justice’s Freedom of Information Act Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2009, the Department had a backlog of almost 5,000 FOIA requests at the end of 2009.  The Department of Homeland Security’s report for the same period shows a backlog of 18,918 FOIA requests.  These mounting FOIA backlogs are simply unacceptable.

The Faster FOIA Act will help to reverse these troubling statistics by establishing a bipartisan Commission to examine the root causes of agency delay.  The Commission created by this bill will make recommendations to Congress for reducing impediments to the efficient processing of FOIA requests. 

The Commission will also examine whether the current system for charging fees and granting fee waivers under FOIA should be modified.   Lastly, the Commission will be made up of government and non-governmental representatives with a broad range of experience in both submitting and handling FOIA requests, in information science, and in the development of government information policy. 

Thomas Jefferson once wisely observed that "information is the currency of democracy.”   I share this view.  I also firmly believe that the Faster FOIA Act will help ensure the dissemination of Government information, so that our democracy remains vibrant and free.   

I have said many times that open government is neither a Democratic issue, nor a Republican issue – it is truly an American value and virtue that we all must uphold.  As we celebrate Sunshine Week, it is in this bipartisan spirit that I join Americans from across the Nation in celebrating an open and transparent government.  I urge all of my Senate colleagues to support the Faster FOIA Act. 

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