POGO and Open Gov Advocates Support Reforms to Freedom of Information Act
February 24, 2014
Members of Congress
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
We, the undersigned organizations, are pleased to support H.R. 1211, the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014, a bill to amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to promote greater government transparency and accountability. The bipartisan bill is cosponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.). We urge you to vote in favor of this open government legislation.
The FOIA has yet to become an effective and efficient tool for the public to access government information, and the experience of the past few years makes clear the need for reform to ensure the law is implemented as Congress intended. Particular reforms included in H.R. 1211 that we support include advancing the online portal for FOIA requests, establishing an open government advisory committee, requiring all agencies to update their FOIA regulations, and providing the Office of Government Information Services with the ability to submit reports and testimony directly to Congress and the President. The bill also encourages more proactive disclosures, and puts into statute the current administrative policy of a “presumption of openness” with which agencies should review FOIA requests.
This bill has also been a catalyst for administrative reform. We welcome the Obama Administration’s commitments to similar significant reforms to FOIA in the U.S. National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership. Similar to H.R. 1211, the President has pledged to create a central, online FOIA portal, establish an advisory committee for modernizing FOIA, and improve agency FOIA practices to reduce backlog. We also appreciate the President’s promise to harmonize the current confusing patchwork of FOIA regulations. While we are working to support the fulfilment of these commitments, we believe that these efforts will be strengthened when supported in statute. We will work with Congress and the Administration to ensure that any final FOIA reform legislation will do just that.
While the House bill reflects several of our recommendations to improve FOIA for the American people, there is still more that must be done. We look forward to working with the Senate Judiciary Committee to advance legislation with additional reforms, including provisions to curb the overuse and abuse of certain exemptions—particularly Exemption 3 and Exemption 5. At a minimum, the application of Exemption 5 should be narrowed to promote greater transparency and be subject to the same time limits as the President’s records, and a public interest balancing test should be used when applying Exemption 3. Additionally, we hope that the Senate Judiciary Committee will put in place a much stronger requirement that agencies make all records that have been reviewed for release available to the public. We urge you to vote for H.R. 1211 and then join us in supporting House and Senate FOIA champions to produce a final bill with robust Freedom of Information Act reforms.
American Association of Law Libraries
American Library Association
American Society of News Editors
Association of Alternative Newsmedia
Association of Research Libraries
Center for Effective Government
Center for Media and Democracy
Delaware Coalition for Open Government
Delaware League of Women Voters
Government Accountability Project – GAP
James Madison Project
Mine Safety and Health News
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Security Archive
National Security Counselors
Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
Public Employees for Environmental
Sage Information Services
Society of American Archivists
Society of Professional Journalists
Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University
Vermont Press Association