Morning Businessby Senator Patrick J. Leahy
Posted on 2014-12-12
LEAHY. Madam President, I am deeply disappointed that last night
the House failed to pass the FOIA Improvement Act. This bipartisan bill
was reported unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month,
and it was the product of months of hard work by Senator Cornyn and me.
Our bill is supported by more than 70 public interest groups that
advocate for government transparency, and it passed out of the Senate
unanimously. I would think that Members of the House Republican
leadership, who have spent so much time on oversight of the Obama
administration, would support the goal of making government more
accountable and transparent, but instead of supporting this bill, they
have chosen secrecy over sunlight.
The FOIA Improvement Act would codify what the President laid out in his historic Executive order in 2009 by requiring Federal agencies to adopt a ``presumption of openness'' when considering the release of government information under FOIA. This bill would require agencies to find a foreseeable harm if they want to withhold information from the public. Prioritizing the people's interest in what their government is doing, our bill will reduce the overuse of exemptions to withhold information. Federal agencies have been required to apply this standard since 2009. They also used this same standard during President Clinton's terms in office. It was only during President George W. Bush's term of secrecy that this standard was rolled back. It appears the House leadership wants to return to that era. It should not matter who is in the White House, information about what their government is doing belongs to the people.
In a political climate as divided as this, I had hoped that we could come together in favor of something as fundamental to our democracy as the public's right to know, that government transparency and openness would not just be the standard applied to the Obama administration but what is applied to every future administration. The FOIA Improvement Act would have done just that.