Leahy Introduces New FOIA Reforms

. . . Legislation Comes Ahead Of Anniversary Of FOIA’s Enactment

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, June 24, 2014) – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), long Congress’s leading advocate on government openness and transparency, Tuesday introduced bipartisan legislation to make improvements to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The bill introduction comes as the nation’s premier open government law nears the celebration of  its 48th anniversary on July Fourth. 

Leahy has led several successful efforts to strengthen FOIA during his Senate tenure and in 1996 was inducted into the FOIA Hall Of Fame.  He has also long worked across the aisle on the issue.  The FOIA Improvement Act he introduced today marks his fourth collaboration with Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) on legislation to support and enhance FOIA.  The legislation requires federal agencies to adopt a “Presumption of Openness” when considering the release of government information under FOIA, and it aims to reduce the overuse of exemptions to withhold information from the public.  The Leahy-Cornyn bill 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 added independence and authority to carry out its work.

“The Freedom of Information Act is one of our nation’s most important laws, established to give Americans greater access to their government and to hold government accountable,” said Leahy, who chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing in March on FOIA, where he outlined his concerns about the growing use of exemptions.

“Both Democrats and Republicans understand that a commitment to transparency is a commitment to the American values of openness and accountability,” Leahy added.  “I value the strong partnerships that I have formed with Senator Cornyn on open government matters.  The FOIA reforms we have authored have garnered broad, bipartisan support, and I hope all senators will support the FOIA Improvement Act as well.”

Senator Cornyn said, “Open government is the hallmark of a healthy democracy, and the American people have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing.  I’m pleased to once again team up with Senator Leahy to strengthen FOIA and promote greater transparency across the board.”

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 engineered Senate passage of 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 can be found here, and text of legislation can be found online.

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