This 4th of July, we urge you to make room for one more hot dog or slice of apple pie in honor of the 45th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA is an essential tool for helping the public keep informed about what the government is doing, and to hold officials accountable for their actions. Before we get to the parties, though, it seems like this is a good time to talk about how we can make the FOIA process work better.
Although many of the problems with FOIA are apparent, we do not yet fully understand where and how the process breaks down, or how the process should be changed. For that reason, several of our partners recently joined us in sending a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee urging them to support and move forward a piece of legislation called the Faster FOIA Act. The bill, the Senate version of which was co-authored by Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Cornyn (R-TX) and was passed by that Chamber unanimously earlier this year, would establish the Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays to study several thorny issues like backlogs and fee disputes, and make recommendations to Congress and the Administration.
Of course, creating a panel to study and make recommendations on improving FOIA processing is not the only – or perhaps even most significant – step the government can take towards making itself more open and accountable. Earlier this summer, we shared some thoughts on types of information the government should release without having to be asked for it. Even if the government begins to release information more freely, however, having a strong and effective FOIA process in place is a crucial safety valve for making sure the public has access to things the government may not want to release. We welcome the opportunity the Faster FOIA Act presents for meaningful study of the problems associated with our FOIA process, specifically considering whether the law should be reformed.