Blog — John Cornyn

September 08, 2014

Squeezing Transparency out of the 113th Congress

By Daniel Schuman

Capitol West FrontIn the remaining legislative weeks of the 113th Congress, there still are a few light-lift legislative measures that have strong bipartisan support that Congress can enact. Here are bills where we expect to see movement.

We are looking to the Senate for passage of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, introduced in that chamber by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX). The measure enjoys strong bipartisan support and a version already passed the House on a bipartisan vote. It would significantly reform how our freedom of information laws work by, among other provisions, embedding a presumption of openness in FOIA, providing support for electronic disclosure, and addressing the overuse of exemptions.

Both the House and the Senate have made rapid recent progress with the Presidential Library Donation Reform Act, which adds disclosure requirements to money given to presidential libraries. Current law imposes no disclosure requirements at all, leaving the door open to unlimited gifts from foreign agents and raising the prospect of improper influence over a sitting president. The Senate version, introduced by Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) and co-sponsored by committee ranking member Tom Coburn (R-OK), was favorably reported by that committee. The House version, introduced by Rep. John Duncan (R-TN), also was favorably reported by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Both are pending final passage in their respective chambers.

We are looking for House passage of the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL). The legislation was favorably reported by both the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Committee on House Administration. The measure would require all legally mandated agency reports to Congress to be available on the Government Printing Office’s website, withholding only information that would not be disclosed under a FOIA request. With 17 bipartisan co-sponsors and a companion bill ready for introduction in the Senate, there’s still a real chance for passage.

Embedded in a Senate appropriations bill is language that would direct the Government Accountability Office to explore creating a special technology office to give advice to Congress, along the lines of the defunct Office of Technology Assessment. We have long called for restoration of OTA, and believe this would be a welcome step in the right direction. Should Congress need to pass a continuing resolution in place of the appropriations bill, we hope this language would be included.

Embedded in a House appropriations bill’s committee report language is a requirement that would enhance public access to legislation by making bill status and summary information available in digital form. As we’ve written before, this is a big win. The House needs merely to pass the bill or embed the language in a report accompanying a continuing resolution. We have high hopes for its passage.

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