08.02.11

Senate – Again – Unanimously Approves Leahy-Authored Faster FOIA Act

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, August 2, 2011) – For the second time this year, the U.S. Senate Monday night unanimously approved legislation to make improvements to the nation’s premier open government law, the Freedom of Information Act.  The Senate passed the Faster FOIA Act in May, but leaders in the House of Representatives tapped the legislation as a vehicle for passing a bill to address the nation’s debt ceiling.  Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy (D) reintroduced the legislation on Monday, and the Senate acted quickly to approve it.

“The ongoing debate in Congress about the national debt has made clear that we must find ways to work together, across party lines and ideologies, to address the many challenges facing our nation,” said Leahy.  “This bipartisan spirit is at the core of the Faster FOIA Act.  I hope that the House of Representatives will quickly follow the Senate’s action, and enact this good government measure.”

The Faster FOIA Act will establish an advisory panel to examine agency backlogs in processing FOIA requests and provide recommendations to Congress for legislative and administrative action to enhance agency responses to such requests. The panel will be tasked 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, as well as identifying any other methods to reduce the delay in the processing of FOIA requests. 

The Leahy-authored Faster FOIA Act was recently endorsed by The Washington Post, which wrote a July 26 editorial urging the House of Representatives to take up and pass the legislation.  The Brattleboro Reformer, in a July 28 editorial, also called on the House of Representatives to act on the bill. 

Leading open government organizations urged Congress to restore the Faster FOIA Act, after its provisions were stripped in the proposed budget deal.  The Sunshine in Government Initiative also encouraged Senate leaders to restore the provisions. 

Leahy first introduced the bipartisan Faster FOIA Act with Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas in 2005.  They reintroduced the Faster FOIA Act in March during the seventh annual Sunshine Week, a national observance of the importance of an open and transparent government.   Leahy and Cornyn have been longtime partners in advancing legislation to strengthen FOIA, and have championed such bills as the OPEN Government Act and the OPEN FOIA Act.

Leahy’s statement on the reintroduction of the Faster FOIA Act follows.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

Chairman, Senate Committee On The Judiciary,

On The Reintroduction Of The “Faster FOIA Act Of 2011”

August 1, 2011

Today, I join Senator Cornyn in reintroducing the Faster FOIA Act of 2011-- a bipartisan bill to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Last week, the House Republican Leadership stripped these FOIA provisions from legislation that unanimously passed the Senate in May, as part of a procedural maneuver to address unrelated issues surrounding the debt limit.   I urge the Senate to promptly reaffirm its bipartisan commitment to open government and to once again pass the Leahy-Cornyn Faster FOIA Act of 2011, so that this good government bill can be enacted into law. 

The Faster FOIA Act enjoys broad bipartisan support from across the political spectrum.   The Senate unanimously passed this bill in May, after the Judiciary Committee favorably reported the bill by voice vote.  Recently, more than 35 transparency organizations urged the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to act on this legislation.  On July 26, The Washington Post editorialized that the House should promptly enact this bipartisan bill to improve the FOIA process. 

Senator Cornyn and I first introduced the Faster FOIA Act in 2005, to address the growing problem of excessive FOIA delays within our Federal agencies.   During the intervening years, the problem of excessive FOIA delays has not gone away.  We reintroduced this bill in 2010, and the Senate unanimously passed it last year.  The current bill is the most recent product of our bipartisan work to help reinvigorate FOIA.  

The Faster FOIA Act would establish a bipartisan Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays to examine the root causes of excessive FOIA delays.  The Commission would recommend to Congress and the President steps that should be taken to reduce these delays, so that the administration of the FOIA is more equitable and efficient.

The Faster FOIA Act will help ensure the dissemination of government information to the American people, so that our democracy remains vibrant and free.   This is a laudable goal that we all share.  Neither chamber of Congress should allow partisan politics to obstruct the important goal of this bill.

The ongoing debate in Congress about the national debt has made clear that we must find ways to work together, across party lines and ideologies, to address the many challenges facing our Nation.  This bipartisan spirit is at the core of the Faster FOIA Act.  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.  I urge the Senate to promptly pass this bill and I hope that the House of Representatives will quickly follow suit and enact this good government measure.

I ask unanimous consent that The Washington Post editorial entitled, “Time to Reinforce FOIA,” be printed in the Record following my remarks.  I also ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

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