01.24.08

White House Signals Intent To Strip Critical FOIA Funds From OIGS

Move Would Run Afoul Of Newly Enacted OPEN Government Act

WASHINGTON (Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008) – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) says funds for the Office of Government Information Services authorized under the newly enacted OPEN Government Act will be shifted to the Department of Justice, according to White House aides.

The OPEN Government Act, a new law signed by President Bush on Dec. 31, made the first real reforms to the Freedom of Information Act in more than a decade.  The legislation, designed to promote a more open and accountable government, established the OGIS to operate under the National Archives and Records Administration.  The funds were authorized in the new law to address backlogs in FOIA requests, to ensure swift resolution of FOIA requests, and to encourage compliance with FOIA legislation.  The White House has now signaled it will shift those funds to the Department of Justice in its budget proposal this year.

The move is contrary to the intent of Congress when it passed the OPEN Government Act -- bipartisan legislation championed by Leahy and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).  The legislation unanimously passed the Senate and House in December.  Leahy this week outlined an agenda for the new year to continue to press for more openness and transparency in government.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy,

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On New Era of Open Government

January 23, 2008

MR. PRESIDENT, as we start a New Year -- and the Senate starts a new session -- the American people have a new law that honors and protects their right to know.  I am pleased that during the waning hours of 2007, the President signed the Leahy-Cornyn "Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act" (the "OPEN Government Act"), S. 2488, into law – enacting the first major reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) in more than a decade

 

A New Era of Open Government

 

Today, our Government is more open and accountable to the American people than it was just a year ago.   With the enactment of FOIA reform legislation, the Congress has demanded and won more openness and accountability regarding the activities of the executive branch.  I call on the President to vigorously and faithfully execute the OPEN Government Act, and I hope that he will fully enforce this legislation.

 

Sadly, the early signs from the administration are troubling.  Just this week, the administration signaled that it will move the much-needed funding for the Office of Government Information Services created under the OPEN Government Act from the National Archives and Records Administration to the Department of Justice.  Such a move is not only contrary to the express intent of the Congress, but it is also contrary to the very purpose of this legislation -- to ensure the timely and fair resolution of American’s FOIA requests.  Given its abysmal record on FOIA compliance during the last seven years, I hope that the administration will reconsider this unsound decision and enforce this law as the Congress intended.

 

In addition, for the first time ever under the new law implementing the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission, Federal agencies will be required to fully disclose to Congress their use of data mining technology to monitor the activities of ordinary American citizens.  I am pleased that this law contains the reforms that I cosponsored last year to require data mining reporting and to strengthen the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Surely, all of these open government reforms are cause to celebrate.  But, there is much more work to be done. 

 

During the second session of the 110th Congress, I intend to work hard to build upon these open government successes, so that we have a government that is more open and accountable to all Americans.  As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I have made oversight of the FOIA reforms contained in the OPEN Government Act one of my top priorities.  I will also continue to work closely with Members on both sides of the aisle and in both Chambers to address the growing and troubling use of FOIA (b)(3) exemptions to withhold information from the American people.

 

As the son of a Vermont printer, I understand the great value of documenting and preserving our Nation’s rich history for future generations, so that our Democracy remains open and free.  Next month, I will convene an important hearing of the Judiciary Committee on the Founding Fathers Project and the effort to make the historical writings of our Nation’s founders more accessible and open to the public.

 

I will also work to ensure Senate passage of the Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007, S. 886 – to reverse a troubling Bush administration policy to curtail the disclosure of presidential records.  And, I will continue my fight to ensure the public's right to know, by urging the prompt consideration and passage of meaningful press shield legislation in the Senate.

 

Openness is an American Value and an American Virtue

 

More that two centuries ago, Patrick Henry proclaimed that "[t]he liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them."   I could not agree more.  Open government is not a Democratic value, nor a Republican value.  It is an American value and an American virtue.   In this New Year, at this new and historic time for our Nation, I urge all Members to join me in supporting an agenda of an open and transparent government on behalf of all Americans. 

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