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Project on Government Oversight

House Oversight Committee Should Commemorate the 45th Anniversary of FOIA by Passing the Faster FOIA Act

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June 24, 2011

The Honorable Darrell Issa
U.S. House of Representatives
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
2157 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Elijah Cummings
U.S. House of Representatives
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
B350A Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Cummings:

In recognition of the upcoming 45th anniversary on July 4th of the signing of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the undersigned organizations write to ask that you support and move forward the Faster FOIA Act, which would establish the Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays (the Commission). The Senate unanimously passed the legislation, co-authored by Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Cornyn (R-TX), earlier this year.

In our experience, agency backlogs impose one of the greatest impediments to access under the FOIA and create a disparity across the federal government in the administration of the FOIA.  Moreover, while backlogs have presented a longstanding problem in agency implementation of the FOIA, we still do not understand fully the conditions and practices that create those backlogs.  Particularly in light of President Obama’s directive to agencies to reduce significant backlogs of outstanding FOIA requests, it is imperative that we identify the root causes of FOIA processing delays.

Toward that end, the Commission established by the Faster FOIA Act would examine agency backlogs and recommend to Congress and the President steps that should be taken to reduce delays and make the administration of the FOIA equitable and efficient throughout the federal government.  By including representatives of the FOIA requester community, the Commission would bring a fresh perspective to a persistent problem.

The Commission would also be tasked with examining the current FOIA system for charging fees and granting waiver fees.  In our experience, an agency’s refusal to recognize a requester’s entitlement to a fee waiver all too often causes further processing delays and imposes yet another unreasonable bar to access under the FOIA.  Additionally, the Commission will examine and determine why the Federal Government’s use of the exemptions under FOIA increased in Fiscal Year 2009, what efforts were made by Federal agencies to comply with the Administration’s guidelines and whether those efforts were successful, and the extent to which political appointees have been involved in the FOIA process.

We welcome the opportunity this legislation presents for meaningful study of this problem, specifically considering whether the current statutory provision should be reformed.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to transparency and open government by strengthening the Freedom of Information Act.

Sincerely,
American Association of Law Libraries

American Association of University Professors

American Library Association

Association of Research Libraries

American Society of News Editors

Californians Aware

Center for Democracy and Technology

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

Defending Dissent Foundation

DC Open Government Coalition

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Essential Information

Fund for Constitutional Government

Government Accountability Project

iSolon.org

Justice Through Music

Liberty Coalition

Minnesota Coalition on Open Government

MuckRock

The Multiracial Activist

National Coalition for History

National Freedom of Information Coalition

National Security Archive

North Carolina Open Government Coalition

OMB Watch

OpenTheGovernment.org

Project On Government Oversight

Public Citizen

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The Rutherford Institute

Sage Information Services

Society of Professional Journalists

Special Libraries Association

Sunlight Foundation

U.S. PIRG

Velvet Revolution

Washington Coalition for Open Government

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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