Sens. Leahy & Cornyn Introduce Bill to Strengthen FOIA


Erica Chabot (w/Leahy)

Tina Gray (w/Cornyn)

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, March 17, 2009) — Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Tuesday partnered again to introduced legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, the nation’s foremost federal law that protects the public’s right to know what their government is doing. This week marks the fifth annual Sunshine Week, a national observance of the importance of open government and the freedom of information.

The OPEN FOIA Act introduced by Leahy and Cornyn would require Congress to openly and clearly state its intention to provide for statutory exemptions to FOIA in proposed legislation. The Senate first passed similar legislation unanimously in 2006, and Leahy and Cornyn introduced the bill in the last Congress.

Leahy said, “This bipartisan bill builds upon the work that Senator Cornyn and I began several years ago to reinvigorate and strengthen FOIA. Too often, legislative exemptions to FOIA are buried within a few lines of very complex and lengthy bills, and these new exemptions are never debated openly before becoming law. The consequence of this troubling practice is the erosion of the public’s right to know, and the shirking of Congress’ duty to fully consider these exemptions. Sunshine Week reminds all of us that open government is not a Democratic issue, nor a Republican issue. It is an American issue. Democratic and Republican Senators alike have rightly supported and voted for this bill in the past. It is in this same bipartisan spirit that I urge all Members to support this bipartisan FOIA reform bill.”

Cornyn said, “The OPEN FOIA Act would strengthen the nation’s foremost open government law by adding new transparency and accountability measures to FOIA. Last Congress, Chairman Leahy and I were successful in passing the most sweeping reforms to FOIA in recent history under the OPEN Government Act. This legislation builds on that success and would shed additional light on the way our federal government conducts its business. The bipartisan OPEN FOIA Act will ensure that Congress can’t slip anti-transparency measures into legislation without someone noticing. I hope this bill will garner support from my colleagues and President Obama to further our shared goal of creating a more open government that serves the needs of the American people.”

Leahy and Cornyn are longtime leaders on FOIA issues in Congress, and in 2007, they partnered to author the OPEN Government Act. Signed into law later that year, the measure made the first major reforms to FOIA in more than a decade by restoring meaningful deadlines for agency action under FOIA, and imposing real consequences on federal agencies for missing FOIA’s 20-day statutory deadline. The OPEN Government Act also provided for the establishment of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The office is charged with reviewing agency compliance with FOIA, mediating inter-agency FOIA disputes, and housing the newly created FOIA ombudsman. Earlier this month, the President signed the omnibus appropriations bill, which included $1 million to establish OGIS.

Sunshine Week participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profit organizations, schools and others.

Leahy and Cornyn have authored and supported several additional open government and transparency measures in the Senate. Leahy was installed in the Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame in 1996, and on Monday was awarded the Robert Vaughn FOIA Legend Award. Cornyn has long been a champion of open government. As Texas Attorney General, he took ground-breaking measures to increase transparency, and he received the Sunshine in Government award from the National Newspaper Association in 2007.