05.20.10

Leahy Pushes For Public Access To Oil Spill Information

WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Thursday sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to press federal executive agencies to make publicly available information related to the ongoing oil spill and growing environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.

Leahy is a longtime leader Congress in promoting government transparency, and in strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the nation’s premier open government law. 

“I write to urge you to take immediate steps to increase public access to government information pertaining to the ongoing environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico,” wrote Leahy.  “Specifically, I request the immediate public release of all monitoring data related to the BP PLC oil spill, including the video of the source of the oil leak, and data related to the safety and effectiveness of the dispersant used to clean-up the leaking oil.”

Leahy also urged the President to ensure that federal agencies fully comply with the disclosure requirements of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act of 1996.  The Leahy-authored bill requires federal agencies to publicly disclose records released pursuant to FOIA, when those records are likely to be the subject of future requests.

Earlier this year, Leahy introduced the Faster FOIA Act, to help reduce agency backlogs in the processing of FOIA requests.  The legislation passed the Senate on May 5.

The full text of Leahy’s letter to the President follows.  A PDF is available online.

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May  20, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I write to urge you to take immediate steps to increase public access to government information pertaining to the ongoing environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.  Specifically, I request the immediate public release of all monitoring data related to the BP PLC oil spill, including the video of the source of the oil leak, and data related to the safety and effectiveness of the dispersant used to clean-up the leaking oil.  Access to this information is crucial to the American public’s understanding of the scope and potential impact of the oil spill, and to determining the best path towards a successful recovery.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has long been the people’s window into their government, showing where it is doing things right, but also where it can do better.  In that spirit, and considering the overwhelming public interest in this matter, I also urge you to ensure that all Federal agencies involved in the Government’s response to the BP PLC oil spill fully comply with the disclosure requirements of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act of 1996. 

This law requires, among other things, that Federal agencies publicly disclose records that have been released pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), when the records are likely to be the subject of future similar requests, and further requires that these “frequently requested” records be posted online.  See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(2)(D).  Federal agencies should also be encouraged to voluntarily and proactively disclose information to the public about this unprecedented oil spill.

In your historic January 21, 2009, Executive Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act, you stated that “[a] democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.”  I could not agree more. I look forward to the opportunity to work with you to ensure greater transparency and public access to information about the BP PLC oil spill.  Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

PATRICK LEAHY
Chairman

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