Open the Government praises efforts to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act

Legislation would go far to increase government openness & shine light on private contractors

Today, Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled legislation encompassing a wide range of reforms to enhance ethics, transparency and accountability across government. The bill includes much needed improvements to the Freedom of Information Act – the premier tool to protect the public from government secrecy, overreach and abuse.

“For over 50 years, FOIA has been used by journalists, advocates, and the public to shine light on government actions carried out in our name, but without our knowledge,” said Lisa Rosenberg, Executive Director of Open the Government. “Senator Warren’s FOIA fixes would make government more accountable. We call on all lawmakers to work to strengthen FOIA to help empower the public with information essential for a functioning democracy.”

Among other improvements, the legislation unveiled today would improve access to information by applying FOIA to private-sector federal contractors. Such reforms are needed to ensure companies that contract with federal agencies are subject to the same scrutiny as their government-operated counterparts. Greater transparency in this sector is increasingly important as immigration detention centers are expanding and private companies continue to profit from the administration’s family separation and detention policies

The legislation also closes loopholes in the law, including those used to create a growing body of “secret law” that prevent the public from learning about government policies on mass surveillance practices, targeted killing, torture, and more.

The bill also requires agencies to proactively disclose records that are routinely subject to FOIA requests, such as communications with Congress, ethics documents, and information on federal contracts, not only speeding access to information but saving taxpayers dollars. 

Earlier this year, OTG released a report documenting a troubling trend of secrecy and government abuse during the first year of the Trump administration. The report found widespread FOIA obstruction and misuse of exemptions to thwart FOIA requests. It also described ways in which government secrecy causes harm across the country. The legislation introduced today paves the road for Congress to take measures to roll back the tide of secrecy, and protect the public’s right to know.  

Read the text of the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, a full summary of the bill, and civil society support letter, here. 

 

Submitted by jfranzblau on 08/10/2018