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Enough is Enough – Public Citizen Calls on Senator Kyl to Stop Obstructing Bipartisan ‘OPEN Government Act’

Aug. 1, 2007

Enough is Enough – Public Citizen Calls on Senator Kyl to Stop Obstructing Bipartisan ‘OPEN Government Act’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today sent a letter to Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) urging the senator to allow a key open government measure to proceed. Kyl has blocked the bill for months.

The bill, the bipartisan Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2007 – or the OPEN Government Act (S.849) – is designed to bring the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) into the 21st century. It is a priority of the Senate Democratic leadership. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked the Senate to move forward on it. And Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), in his most recent attempt to bring up the legislation on July 26,   sought unanimous consent to bring the bill up for a vote but was blocked by unnamed GOP objectors. 

Kyl indicated in floor statements on Monday that, after a very long delay, he is willing to discuss changes to the bill with bill sponsor Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). But Kyl’s efforts are an apparent attempt to win negotiating space to weaken this bill, which otherwise has wide and broad support in the Senate. 

The OPEN Government Act has already passed the House as H.R. 1309. There is overwhelming support for its commonsense reforms of the Freedom of Information Act, a landmark law that allows ordinary citizens access to vital government information but which is badly in need of a tune-up to ensure it functions properly. Supporters of the OPEN Government Act reforms to FOIA come from across the political spectrum and include reform and good government groups, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Nonetheless, the Senate has been stopped by Kyl, who placed a secret hold on the openness bill. Although Kyl was unmasked by a grassroots and blogosphere campaign led by Public Citizen and its allies, he and the Republican leadership are continuing to impede a vote. 

“While Kyl’s motivations are somewhat murky due to the secrecy surrounding his maneuvers, it appears that he is carrying water for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ Justice Department,” said Public Citizen’s legislative counsel, Linda Andros. “The Justice Department is raising questions about a requirement in the bill that agencies reimburse citizens for the expenses they incur when an agency has unreasonably withheld the information and citizens sue. But that provision of the bill provides an important incentive for agencies not to delay release of information until after they’ve been sued, but instead to release information unless they have no reasonable basis to withhold it. It also allows ordinary citizens to ensure the government complies with FOIA in a timely manner.”

People who seek information under FOIA face delay and backlogs often lasting years. Several FOIA requests still pending before the federal government date back to the 1980s. The OPEN Government Act would expedite FOIA requests and increase transparency by:

  • Restoring meaningful deadlines for agency action under FOIA;
  • Clarifying that FOIA applies to agency records held by outside private contractors;
  • Establishing a FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies;
  • Authorizing recovery of attorney fees for requesters if the government agrees to provide the information after suit but before a court ruling; and
  • Creating a FOIA ombudsman as an alternative to litigation.

FOIA is a vital tool for any democracy because it allows the press, businesses and most importantly, average citizens, access to government records. The transparency that FOIA affords is essential to ensure that government is working in the public interest. Time and again, documents obtained through FOIA requests have exposed government waste, abuse and corruption that otherwise never would have seen the light of day.

“Kyl should stop thwarting the Senate’s vote on FOIA and negotiating to weaken the bill and allow the OPEN Government Act to go to the floor for immediate consideration,” Andros said.

READ the letter.