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FOIA Turns 51: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

Happy birthday to the Freedom of Information Act! Today the Act quietly turns 51, compared to last year’s celebration at the signing of the FOIA Improvement Act by then-President Obama. The FOIA Improvement Act included some great updates to the landmark access-to-information law, like improved requirements for agencies to proactively post documents online and a new standard of transparency.

But what is FOIA?

Originally enacted in 1966, FOIA created a way for all citizens to obtain information from the federal government. It requires federal agencies to release any requested information that is not covered by its nine exemptions, and requires agencies to make basic information about their policies available to the public. FOIA is a tool commonly used by researchers, historians, journalists, and the public to discover information about possible environmental contamination near their property, the safety of consumer products, and more, and it is being used more than ever before, with almost 800,000 requests submitted in 2016. Many of POGO’s own investigations rely on documents we obtain through FOIA.

While there are still problems with the law that must be addressed and continued threats against it, today is about celebrating and looking back on the impact it has had so far. The Sunshine In Government Initiative launched a Tumblr last year that rounds up news stories that wouldn’t have been possible without the landmark transparency law, and journalists continue to use FOIA every day.

So please join POGO in wishing FOIA a happy 51st birthday!

By: Elizabeth "Liz" Hempowicz
Director of Public Policy, POGO

Photograph of Elizabeth Liz Hempowicz is the Director of Public Policy for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

Related Content: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Authors: Elizabeth "Liz" Hempowicz

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