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Senator Worries Over Shutdown’s ‘Closed Government’


Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

On Saturday, Senator Partick Leahy (D-Vt.) took to the Senate floor to speak about two troubling aspects of the shutdown: the crippled judiciary and decreased government transparency. His strong words expressed frustration that Congress had not even passed a Continuing Resolution to “simply fund the continuing operations of the federal government.”

As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy said he was “acutely aware” of the potentially devastating impact on our justice system. Referencing a letter from Judge John Bates, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, he said the Judiciary will only remain open for 10 business days in October.

What will happen after those 10 days?  What happens when the operating funds run out completely?  Will we be able to swiftly bring criminals and terrorists to justice?  Will small businesses and individuals be able to have their claims resolved?  Each and every Federal court in this country will soon have to start making decisions about what part of justice is essential and what can be delayed until funding is restored.  If this shutdown continues, millions of Americans will not have access to the justice they deserve under our Constitution.

Leahy also spoke about his concern over how the shutdown is damaging the U.S.’ commitment to open government.

We also take for granted that our open and transparent government is a cornerstone of our democracy and a shining example of civic involvement. Even the public’s right to know is compromised because of this shutdown.  Every Member of Congress, regardless of political party or ideology, should be alarmed.

Many Americans seeking information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will be kept waiting while Congress debates the shutdown. Leahy listed several agencies–the Department of Justice, the Social Security Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Security Agency and the National Labor Relations Board–that are no longer responding to FOIA requests, as they are required to do by law.

Furthermore, government websites and social media pages that serve as vital resources for citizens are no longer being updated. Internal government watchdogs, like the Government Accountability Office, have also been shuttered. “We literally have a closed government,” he said.

Senator Leahy agreed with the Project On Government Oversight when he said that Congress needs to end the stalemate and reopen the government. On the day prior to the shutdown’s start, POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian warned of the potential impact and encouraged Congress to “do [their] job.”

So far, the message hasn’t gotten through.

Image by Flickr user musicFIRSTcoalition.

By: Avery Kleinman
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Avery Kleinman At the time of publication Avery Kleinman was the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

Related Content: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Information Access

Authors: Avery Kleinman

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