PRESS RELEASE & TESTIMONY
Agency delays hamper FOIA, media coalition witness tells Senate
AP general counsel tells Senate panel agencies are nonresponsive and withhold rather than disclose, while requesters have little effective recourse.
Note: The written testimony will be available through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Federal agencies avoid disclosing information in a timely manner under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) most often by simply not responding and by leaning toward withholding over disclosing information, giving requesters little effective recourse other than going to court, the general counsel for The Associated Press (AP) told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday on behalf of The Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI), a coalition of media associations promoting open government.
AP General Counsel Karen Kaiser urged lawmakers to enact bipartisan legislation now before the Senate that “takes important steps to make FOIA work better,” Kaiser wrote in prepared testimony. “These improvements to FOIA will result in a more informed citizenry and a more transparent and accountable government.”
SGI is a coalition of media groups united for nearly a decade to promote open government. SGI members include American Society of News Editors, The Associated Press, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, National Association of Broadcasters, National Newspaper Association, Newspaper Association of America, Online News Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Society of Professional Journalists.
The current FOIA reform legislation before the Senate, S. 337, would:
- Instruct agencies to start from the presumption of openness,
- Strengthen the federal ombudsman’s office that resolves disputes and makes recommendations for improving FOIA,
- Require disclosure of policy deliberations more than 25 years old, and
- Create a portal that would help requesters and agencies handle FOIA requests and responses.
The Senate bill is sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Ia.) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill unanimously on February 23, 2015.
The companion bill in the House, H.R. 653, would make many of the same improvements to the law. That bill is sponsored by Representative Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is co-sponsored by 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats.
Rick Blum, Director
202-795-9305 (direct), 202-309-2654 (cell)