Kerry Urges Bush Administration To Break Logjam On FOIA Requests
Senator John Kerry announced today that he has written to five federal agencies, urging them to comply with pending Freedom of Information Act Requests (FOIA). Some of the agencies have received repeated FOIA requests and have resisted compliance - some for months, or even years.
Kerry is a co-sponsor of the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act, or the OPEN Government Act written by Senators John Cornyn (R- Tx.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). This legislation is aimed at improving compliance with FOIA and helping the public remedy any unfounded FOIA rejections. Kerry is working with his Senate colleagues to lift the "hold" placed by a Republican senator on the crucial reform legislation.
"Transparency at all levels of government is crucial to protecting those who expose government corruption and ask the tough questions to get at the truth," said Senator Kerry. "This Administration has reached Nixon-level depths of secrecy, paranoia and skirting accountability and the systematic delay in processing simple FOIA requests is symptomatic of that mentality. The FOIA is a tool that supports truth tellers - from scientists who report the effects of global warming, to those who questioned shoddy work at the Big Dig, to journalists who protect the public's right to know everyday. I hope these agencies respond to the public and I hope the Senate has an opportunity to vote soon on serious FOIA reform legislation."
Senator Kerry wrote separately to five agencies with the largest number of unfulfilled FOIA requests. They include the State Department, the Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Criminal Division at Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A recent study by George Washington University lists these organizations as the least compliant when it comes to FOIA requests, with some dating back 15 years or more.
The OPEN Government Act would reduce the backlog of FOIA requests by mandating that missing the 20-day statutory deadline would result in real consequences for an agency that does not adhere to the law. A Freedom of Information hotline to track requests would also be created.
Perhaps most important, the bill urges agencies to release information in a timely manner. If an agency disputes a request and is sued, the agency can not claim compliance by offering the relevant information the day before the case goes to trial, without taking financial responsibility for legal costs. The bills also define media to include bloggers, so that they will be eligible for the same waiver of fees.
Below is the text of Kerry's letter to the State Department:
July 26, 2007
Dear Mr. Inspector General,
I write today with concern over pending Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Department of State. I am troubled that requests made by private citizens and reporters are not being processed expeditiously. This important law that has been in effect for 40 years improves transparency and ensures the public's trust in our government. Every agency should take the utmost care to respond to these requests in a timely manner and those that do not do so are breaking federal law.
In the Senate I am a co-sponsor of the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act or the OPEN Government Act. As you know this legislation is aimed at improving compliance with FOIA and helping the public redress any unfounded FOIA rejections. This important legislation has been stalled in the Senate and while I will continue to work for its passage this issue is too critical to leave unattended.
My purpose for writing you today is to inquire what the Department of State is doing to respond to FOIA requests quickly and effectively. I would also like to know how many pending FOIA requests the Department of State has, and the reason for any delays. A recent study done by George Washington University lists the Department of State as one of the least compliant agencies when it comes to FOIA requests, with some dating back 15 years or more. This is unacceptable. I respectfully ask that you investigate the Department's compliance with FOIA and respond with any and all findings.
I thank you for your consideration and look forward to your reply.
John F. Kerry