On Wednesday evening, the Senate unanimously approved the Faster FOIA Act, which would establish a bipartisan commission to advise Congress and the president on measures to reduce the overwhelming backlog in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
CREW applauds the Senate’s passage of this bill, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.), as an important first step that recognizes the value of including outside groups like CREW in assessing how to deal with persistent agency problems in implementing the FOIA. Much work remains, however, to fully achieve the goals of this legislation. Most critically, Congress must allocate the necessary funds for agencies to eliminate their backlogs and give FOIA requests the priority and attention they deserve.
Additional legislation also is necessary to realize President Obama’s goal of a more transparent and accountable government. For example, while the president and Attorney General Eric Holder have instructed federal agencies to “adopt a presumption in favor” of disclosure under the FOIA, too many agencies continue to follow the course of secrecy, especially resisting disclosure of documents that would cast them in a less favorable light. Indeed, an Associated Press review of FOIA requests filed in 2009 shows that agencies actually increased their withholding of information in 2009. At a minimum, an amendment to the FOIA that requires agencies to balance the public’s interest in the requested information against the agency’s interest in secrecy would go a long way toward making the president’s commitment a reality. The Faster FOIA Act will provide Congress an important tool in bringing transparency to the federal government, but we should not lose sight of the many other challenges that remain.