12.08.14

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, Unanimous Consent Request Seeking Passage of S. 2520 The FOIA Improvement Act of 2014

The Freedom of Information Act is one of our Nation’s most important laws.  For nearly 50 years, FOIA has given Americans a way to access government information, ensuring their right to know what their government doing. Today, the Senate is poised to build on that important legacy with passage of the Leahy-Cornyn FOIA Improvement Act. 

The FOIA Improvement Act will codify what the President laid out in his historic executive order in 2009.  It will require 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 make 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. 

Passage of the FOIA Improvement Act will help open the government to the more than 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.

Today I ask for unanimous consent that the Senate pass S. 2520, the bipartisan FOIA Improvement Act of 2014.  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. Today, we have can accomplish both of those things but time is running out. We drafted this bill in a bipartisan fashion after a long and thoughtful process of consultation. It has broad support from a range of stakeholders.  I urge all Senators to support passage of this legislation today, so it can be taken up by the House, and sent to the President to be signed into law before the end of this Congress.

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