Today, Representative Mike Quigley introduced the Transparency in Government Act (TGA), legislation that encompasses a wide range of reforms aimed at enhancing transparency and accountability across government.
The bill includes legislative fixes to loopholes in laws that agencies often rely on to keep information that exposes waste, fraud and abuse out of the public’s eye. Notably, the TGA includes reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that would increase public access to legal opinions and memos developed by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The provisions would limit the scope of the exemptions that the Justice Department uses to withhold legally binding opinions that have proliferated into a growing body of “secret law.” OLC legal interpretations are often binding on the executive branch, and form a body of law with vast and significant implications for the American public, including opinions that have been used to justify controversial policies such as mass surveillance practices, targeted killing, and torture.
OTG has promoted reforms to the FOIA for years to limit the overly-abused exemptions agencies use to withhold information. Last year, Congress passed an important FOIA reform bill, but the version signed into law did not include provisions needed to force the Justice Department to release OLC memos. The introduction of the TGA comes shortly after the confirmation of Steven Engel to the head of OLC. Senator McCain, among others, opposed Engel’s nomination because of his role in approving the formerly-secret OLC torture memos issued under the George W. Bush administration, and failing to disclose records he produced during his prior tenure at OLC relating to the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program.
The TGA lays the groundwork for Congress to draw from to roll back the secrecy that hinders the public’s right to know about the Justice Department’s legally binding memos, and other activities of government carried out behind closed doors.
Read the press release from Representative Quigley, here.