12.05.14

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On Supporting Government Transparency And Urging Passage of The FOIA Improvement Act of 2014

The Freedom of Information Act is one of our Nation’s most important laws. James Madison said the people “must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”  For nearly 50 years, FOIA has given Americans a way to access government information ensuring their right to know what their government doing. The FOIA Improvement Act advances this fundamental democratic principle.  It is why I urge all Senators to support the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, without delay.

This legislation builds on what the President laid out in his historic executive order in 2009 by requiring Federal agencies to adopt a “Presumption of Openness” when considering the release of government information under FOIA. Prioritizing the people’s interest in what their government is doing, our bill will reduce the overuse of exemptions to withhold information where there is no foreseeable harm. It will make information available for public inspection and frequently requested documents available online.  It will provide the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), with additional independence and authority to carry out its work. I believe this legislation reaffirms the fundamental premise of FOIA, that government information belongs to all Americans. 

Supporting these commonsense reforms will help open the government to the 300 million Americans it serves. The bill is supported by more than 70 public interest groups that advocate for government transparency. The Sunshine in Government Initiative, said the Leahy-Cornyn bill “strengthens government transparency by limiting the ability of agencies to hide decades old documents from the public.” At the Judiciary Committee’s business meeting to consider this legislation, which was reported to the full Senate with unanimous support, Ranking Member Grassley said the FOIA Improvement Act “opens wide the curtains and provides more sunlight on the Federal government.” Senator Cornyn, my partner for many years on government transparency, noted our bipartisan efforts “to open up the government and make it more consumer and customer friendly.” I thank both Senators for their work on this legislation.

We often talk about the need for government transparency, and many also note how rare it is that Democrats and Republicans can come together on any legislation. We have accomplished both with the FOIA Improvement Act. It was drafted in a bipartisan fashion after a long and thoughtful process of consultation. This week, we can pass this bill in the Senate and send it over to the House, where I am confident that it will pass, and send it to the President to sign before the end of the year. There is no reason to delay this legislation, which has broad support from a range of stakeholders, costs very little to implement and will improve access to government for all Americans.  I urge the Senate to pass the FOIA Improvement Act now, without delay. 

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