04.15.10

Senate Panel Advances Leahy, Cornyn Faster FOIA Legislation

Senators Urge Passage Of Bill To Help Identify Ways To Reduce FOIA Delays

WASHINGTON – A panel chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Thursday voted to advance legislation authored by Leahy to make further improvements to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the nation’s premier open government law.  Leahy introduced the Faster FOIA Act last month, during the sixth annual Sunshine Week, a national observance of the importance of an open and transparent government.

Leahy teamed with Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas to introduce the legislation.  Leahy and Cornyn are longtime leaders on FOIA issues, and have authored legislation to make the federal government more open and transparent to the people it represents.  The Faster FOIA Act will establish an advisory panel to examine agency backlogs in processing FOIA requests.

“The commission created by the Faster FOIA Act will make key recommendations to Congress and the President for reducing impediments to the efficient processing of FOIA requests,” said Leahy.  “Senator Cornyn and I first introduced this bill in 2005, because of the growing problem of excessive FOIA delays within our Federal agencies.  During the five years since then, we have successfully worked together to reinvigorate FOIA through several legislative initiatives. I urge all Senators to support these constructive improvements in our Nation’s fundamental right-to-know law. 

“Today we are one step closer to making our government more transparent,” Cornyn said. “This commission will identify methods to reduce delays in the processing of FOIA requests and ensure the efficient and equitable administration of FOIA throughout the federal government. It would be a great benefit to the American people, who deserve to be treated as valued customers when they seek answers from their government.  I hope that all of my colleagues in the Senate will support this bill when it comes to the floor.”

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.  An amendment adopted Thursday requires that the appointments to the commission be made expeditiously, and also requires a study of the reasons for the government’s increased use of FOIA exemptions. 

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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