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Archive Testifies in Support of Senate FOIA Reform Efforts

Archive General Counsel Testifies that FOIA Executive Order
Does Not Go Far Enough to Enforce Compliance with FOIA

 Congress Must Mandate Solutions for Delay, Agency Obstruction on FOIA

For more information contact:
Meredith Fuchs - 202/994-7000

Statement of Meredith Fuchs, General Counsel, National Security Archive
Before the
Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Hearing on “Open Government: Reinvigorating the Freedom of Information Act,” March 14, 2007.

Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Notice of Committee Hearing

Related Link

File Not Found: 10 Years After E-FOIA, Most Federal Agencies Are Delinquent

Washington DC, March 14, 2007 - National Security Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs today testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary in support of a FOIA reform bill introduced yesterday by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).  The OPEN Government Act of 2007 is “critical for improving the functioning of FOIA,” according to Ms. Fuchs’s statement. 

Ms. Fuchs charged that “Instead of viewing the public as the customer or as part of the team, the handling of FOIA programs at some agencies suggests that the public is considered the enemy.”  She highlighted ongoing problems with FOIA performance at federal agencies, and demonstrated that the Executive Branch’s own reporting demonstrates that they will not fix the problems without a congressional mandate.  Ms. Fuchs offered the example of the Department of Justice, which is the lead agency on implementation of the Executive Order, but has failed to meet 30 of its own FOIA performance improvement goals.  She also recounted how the Department of the Treasury is reducing its FOIA backlog by sending letters to requesters, such as the Archive, asking them whether they are still interested in pursuing pending requests submitted in the mid-1990s and threatening to close the request if a response is not received within 14 days.  Treasury also asks whether the FOIA requester can resubmit the original requests because they were destroyed despite the fact that no substantive response was sent to the FOIA requester in the intervening 13 years. 

In her statement, Ms. Fuchs endorsed important provisions of the OPEN Government Act, including restoration of the catalyst theory for attorneys’ fees awards when FOIA requesters are forced to litigate to obtain a response from the government, improved annual reporting, tracking, and several additional provisions designed to close loopholes and protect against the erosion of open government principles. 

In his opening remarks at today’s hearing, Senator Leahy referenced the Archive’s E-FOIA audit, released Monday: “I am also troubled by the findings in a new report by the National Security Archive that, ten years after Congress passed the Electronic Freedom of Information Act (“E-FOIA”) Amendments, which I coauthored in 1996, federal agencies are still not complying with the requirements of that law.”  Senator Leahy was an original co-sponsor and great champion of E-FOIA, and along with Senator Specter and others on the committee, expressed interest and dismay about the lack of progress by federal agencies in using the Internet to disseminate information to the public.

Other witnesses on the panel included Tom Curley, President and CEO of the Associated Press and representative of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, Sabina Haskell, Editor of the Brattleboro Reformer, and Katherine Cary, General Counsel for the Texas Office of the Attorney General.

The Archive has been a leading user of the Freedom of Information Act and advocate for effective FOIA reform. The Archive has completed five government-wide audits of FOIA administration (supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation), including most recently File Not Found: 10 Years After E-FOIA, Most Federal Agencies Are Delinquent. Recommendations from the Archive's reports on those audits have been adopted in President Bush's Executive Order 13,392 ("Improving Agency Disclosure of Information"), included in FOIA legislation introduced in earlier Congresses by Senators Cornyn and Leahy, and Congressmen Smith and Waxman, and included as goals in many of the 91 agency FOIA Improvement Plans developed under the Executive Order.

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