Open Government Community Cheers Improvements to Landmark Right-to-Know Law

Dec. 9, 2014

Open Government Community Cheers Improvements to Landmark Right-to-Know Law

Statement of Susan Harley, Deputy Director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Note: The bipartisan FOIA Improvement Act (S. 2520), introduced by U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), passed the U.S. Senate with unanimous consent late Monday afternoon. The measure now goes back to the U.S. House of Representatives, which passed a similar version unanimously in February.

Monday’s U.S. Senate passage of improvements to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) marks an important milestone in the fight to achieve a more open and accountable government. Public Citizen applauds the Senate for passing the reform bill and strongly urges the U.S. House of Representatives to quickly make S. 2520 law before this congressional session ends.

This legislation has substantial momentum behind it, enough to allow it to clear the hurdle of the House. Not only did the House unanimously pass a similar measure earlier this year, but there is widespread popular support for better citizen access to government information; 7,500 Public Citizen members and supporters took action online and called on their senators to pass the FOIA amendments.

The measure makes important improvements that will allow groups like ours – fighting for the common good – to gain the information needed to better hold our nation’s leaders accountable and ensure the rights of citizens are upheld. It encourages agencies to post online records released under FOIA in easy-to-use electronic formats, makes clear that fees generally may not be charged to requestors when agencies miss deadlines to respond to certain requests, requires notification to requestors about the availability of alternative dispute resolution options, creates a chief FOIA officer council to foster better interagency coordination, codifies the Obama administration’s presumption that agencies should exercise their discretion under FOIA in favor of disclosure, includes a sunset provision on agency records more than 25 years old that otherwise might be subject to the deliberative process or executive privileges, and more.

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