Over the weekend Chairman Patrick Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee shone some much needed light on the government shutdown's effect on government openness, noting that "We literally have a closed government." As reported by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, some agencies have made their FOIA websites completely inactive during the shutdown and more than a dozen agencies have confirmed that their FOIA operations are being reduced until the government is re-opened. While other agencies have not confirmed that they have reduced FOIA operations, we have reason to believe the list of effected offices is larger. Read more to see Senator Leahy's statement on the public's right to know.
We also take for granted that our open and transparent government is a cornerstone of our democracy and a shining example of civic involvement. Even the public’s right to know is compromised because of this shutdown. Every Member of Congress, regardless of political party or ideology, should be alarmed.
Right now, Americans seeking help with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests encounter “closed for business” signs at many of the Federal offices that facilitate them. The National Archives and Records Administration Office of Government Information Services – a critical office established by the Leahy-Cornyn OPEN Government Act to mediate FOIA disputes – is not operating due to the shutdown of the Federal government. And according to several press reports, the Department of Justice has also sought stays in several important FOIA cases – including FOIA litigation seeking information about the government’s use of the PATRIOT ACT to collect data on Americans’ telephone calls – due to the lapse in Federal funding.
This shutdown has impacted other agencies, too. The Center for Effective Government reports that the processing of FOIA requests has been suspended at the Social Security Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Labor Relations Board. The National Security Agency, an agency facing a public trust deficit in light of revelations detailing its sweeping surveillance of Americans’ emails and phone calls, has also ceased the processing of FOIA and Privacy Act requests. Many other Federal agencies have either taken their websites off-line or stopped updating their websites. We literally have a closed government.
-Statement of Chairman Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee