06.25.09

Leahy Marks 43rd Anniversary Of Freedom Of Information Act

WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Thursday marked the upcoming 43rd anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the nation’s premier open government law.  Leahy is a longtime advocate of government transparency.  He is the co-author of the OPEN FOIA Act, which would require Congress to clearly and explicitly state its intention to create a statutory exemption to FOIA when it provides for such an exemption in new legislation.  Leahy was the 2009 recipient of the Robert Vaughn FOIA Legend Award.  He is the author of the Electronic FOIA Amendments of 1996 and coauthor of the OPEN Government Act.

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On The 43rd Anniversary Of The Enactment Of The Freedom Of Information Act
June 25, 2009

MR. PRESIDENT.  On July 4th, the Nation will celebrate the 43rd anniversary of the signing of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  The tragic events unfolding in Iran are a powerful reminder of the vital role of a free press and the free flow of information in an open society.  Now in its fifth decade, FOIA remains an indispensable tool for shedding light on bad policies and government abuses.  The Act has helped to guarantee the public’s “right to know” for generations of Americans. 

Today, thanks to the reforms contained in the Leahy-Cornyn OPEN Government Act, Americans who seek information under FOIA will experience a process that is much more transparent and less burdened by delays than it has been in the past.  A key component of the OPEN Government Act was the creation of an Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) within the National Archives and Records Administration.  This office will mediate FOIA disputes, review agency compliance with FOIA, and house a newly created FOIA ombudsman. 

I applaud President Obama and Acting Archivist of the United States Adrienne Thomas for recently appointing Miriam Nisbet as the first Director of OGIS.  I look forward to working closely with Director Nisbet and I will continue to work very hard to ensure that OGIS has the necessary resources to carry-out its mission. 

These new reforms to FOIA are very good news.  But, there is still much more to be done. 

Earlier this year, Senator Cornyn and I joined together to reintroduce the bipartisan OPEN FOIA Act, S. 612, a commonsense bill to promote more openness regarding statutory exemptions to FOIA.  This FOIA reform measure requires that Congress clearly and explicitly state its intention to create a statutory exemption to FOIA when it provides for such an exemption in new legislation.  While there is a very real need to keep certain government information secret to ensure the public good and safety, excessive government secrecy is a constant temptation and the enemy of a vibrant democracy. 

The OPEN FOIA Act has twice passed the Senate this year as a part of other legislation.  This bill provides a safeguard against the growing trend towards FOIA exemptions, and would make all FOIA exemptions clear and unambiguous, and vigorously debated, before they are enacted into law.  I hope that the Congress will enact this good government measure this year.

When describing our vibrant democracy, President Kennedy once wisely observed that "[w]e are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values.  For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”  As we reflect upon the celebration of another FOIA anniversary, we in Congress must reaffirm this commitment to open and transparent government. 

Open government is not a Democratic issue, nor a Republican issue.  It is truly an American value and a virtue that all Americans hold dear.  It is in this bipartisan spirit that I join Americans from across the political spectrum in celebrating the 43rd anniversary of FOIA and all that this law has come to symbolize about our vibrant democracy. 

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