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POGO and Over 40 Government Transparency Organizations Write to the President about Improving FOIA

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February 19, 2013 | By: Angela Canterbury

February 19, 2013

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

The undersigned organizations, concerned with government openness and accountability, are writing to ask you to bring renewed attention to issues that continue to plague government-wide implementation, compliance, and enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

We strongly agree with your statements in the January 21, 2009 Memorandum that the FOIA “encourages accountability through transparency,” and “is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.” However, as we have discussed with you and your staff, delays and other barriers in FOIA practice at the agency level continue to prevent the public from timely access to information about the federal government’s activities.

As you likely know, a February 4th, 2013 letter from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice brings attention and focus on some of the issues that continually frustrate FOIA requesters and are major concerns for the transparency community. In particular, the letter asks OIP to provide the Committee with detailed information about its actions related to outdated FOIA regulations, excessive fee assessments, growing FOIA backlogs, and the misuse of exemptions. This letter is an excellent step towards identifying where a lack of oversight and attention on the part of OIP is contributing to these problems, and we look forward to Congressional oversight hearings.

Your Administration has set high standards for implementation of the FOIA. You and the Attorney General have set a clear standard of the presumption of openness, and directed agencies to take affirmative steps to make government information more available to the public.

Given the continued issues requesters have with the FOIA, however, it appears that these principles and policies are not receiving the requisite attention by high-ranking agency officials to ensure they are followed.

By renewing attention to and strengthening oversight of implementation of the FOIA, your Administration can help usher in the new era of open Government you and we want to effect. We hope you will join with the transparency community in paying close attention to the answers OIP delivers to the questions posed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and will act quickly to address any issues.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this issue of critical importance to transparent and accountable government. To discuss these issues in greater detail, please contact Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, at pmcdermott@openthegovernment.org or 202-332-6736.

Sincerely,

American Association of Law Libraries
American Association of University Professors
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Library Association
American Society of News Editors
Article 19
Association of American Publishers
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee – BORDC
Californians Aware
Cause of Action
Center for Effective Government (formerly OMB Watch)
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – CREW
Defending Dissent Foundation
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
Electronic Frontier Foundation – EFF
Electronic Privacy Information Center – EPIC
Essential Information
First Amendment Coalition
Freedom of Information Center at the Missouri School of Journalism
Freedom to Read Foundation
Friends of the Earth
Government Accountability Project – GAP
iSolon.org
The James Madison Project
Liberty Coalition
Mine Safety and Health News
Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Coalition for History
National Freedom of Information Coalition
National Press Club
National Priorities Project
National Security Archive
OpenTheGovernment.org
Project On Government Oversight – POGO
Reporters Without Borders
Society of American Archivists
Society of Professional Journalists
Special Libraries Association
Student Press Law Center
Sunlight Foundation
Taxpayers for Common Sense
Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University
Utah Foundation for Open Government
Washington Civil Rights Council
Washington Coalition for Open Government

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