The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is one of the most important tools for investigative journalism.
MA joined with over 50 civil liberties organizations to press Congress to reform and improve FOIA to facilitate government transparency and the informed consent of the American people to the actions taken in their name.
We thank you and your staffs for your continued leadership and perseverance in updating this cornerstone of government accountability and transparency.
Congress must act this year to ensure that FOIA stays current with people’s need to access government information and resilient in the face of attempts to subvert that access.
Public oversight is critical to ensuring accountability, and the reforms embodied in both the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act (H.R. 653), introduced by Representatives Issa and Cummings, and the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015 (S.337), introduced by Senators Cornyn and Leahy, are necessary to enable that oversight. The undersigned groups therefore strongly support these bipartisan efforts.
Both pieces of legislation would:
● Codify the presumption of openness, thereby requiring records be released unless there is a foreseeable harm or legal requirement to withhold them;
● Improve public access to released records;
● Rein in b(5), the “withhold it because you want to” exemption, including by
placing a 25-year sunset on its use;
● Clarify and reform the use of fees as assessed by agencies; and
● Strengthen the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).
The bill introduced in the Senate, which is virtually identical to the bill that passed through unanimous consent last year, is the product of months of negotiations, which were unfortunately undermined by last-minute agency objections designed to stall FOIA reform. The House bill is very similar to last year’s, but includes additional language designed to further reduce the record-breaking overuse of exemption (b)(5). With the removal of the public interest balancing test, however, neither bill goes as far as the Senate’s original FOIA Improvement Act did last year. Given the disturbing, and increasing, misuse of the (b)(5) exemption, the undersigned organizations call on both chambers to pass the strongest reform possible.
We look forward to working with our allies on the Hill to make this happen.