This week, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress introduced legislation to bolster the American people’s right to obtain government records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the Open and Responsive Government Act of 2019 (S. 2220).
The legislation would reverse a recent troubling decision by the Supreme Court that significantly expands the definition of confidential business information—a decision which could substantially impair the public’s ability to access information from federal agencies.
This bill would effectively nullify that decision by establishing that federal agencies can withhold information through the FOIA process as “confidential business information” only if that information could cause “substantial competitive harm” if released.
POGO Senior Policy Analyst Sean Moulton issued the following statement:
“The Open and Responsive Government Act is a quick and straightforward move by Congress to fix recent FOIA problems before they get worse. For decades, FOIA has been a fundamental tool for the American people to access information and better understand the federal government. This bill demonstrates Congress’s bipartisan commitment to protecting that tool and ensuring the public isn’t left in the dark.
“This legislation would be a return to the standard agencies have used for years. The legislation also addresses recent improper agency efforts to assume greater authority to withhold information, by barring agencies from withholding portions of a document because they aren’t relevant to the FOIA request.”