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Public Statements

Freedom of Information Act Anniversary

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, this Independence Day will mark the 47th anniversary of the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA. For more than four decades, FOIA has translated our great American values of openness and accountability into practice, by guaranteeing access to government information. In so doing, this premier open government law has helped to guarantee the public's ``right to know'' for generations of Americans.

The anniversary of the enactment of FOIA is a timely opportunity to take stock of the progress we have made in improving transparency in government, as well as the challenges that remain when citizens seek information from the Federal Government. Today, we are witnessing an erosion of the public's trust in the institutions of government. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, trust in the Federal Government is at an historic low. In addition, a majority of Americans believe that the Federal Government threatens their personal rights and freedoms, according to the study.

To be sure, there are many reasons for the decline in the public's trust in the Federal Government. But more importantly, there is a time-proven cure for this troubling trend--an increase in government transparency.

To accomplish this, our Federal agencies must commit to the spirit, as well as the letter, of the President's pledge to keep the Federal Government open and accessible to the American people. While the Obama administration has made significant progress in improving the FOIA process, too many of our Federal agencies are not keeping up with the FOIA reforms that Congress enacted in the OPEN Government Act. A recent audit conducted by the National Security Archive found that more than half of all Federal agencies have not updated their Freedom of Information Act regulations to comply with this law.

Our Federal Government must also do a better job of balancing the need to protect sensitive government information with the equally important need to ensure public confidence in our national security policies. According to the Associated Press, during the past year, the Obama administration withheld more information for national security reasons in response to FOIA requests than at any other time since the President took office. Of course no one would quibble with the notion that some government information must be kept confidential. But as we have seen in the unfolding events surrounding the unauthorized disclosure of information about the NSA's secret electronic surveillance programs, excessive government secrecy can harm both the public's trust and our own national interests. That is why I have proposed and cosponsored legislation that will provide for greater openness and public reporting with regard to these broad surveillance authorities, as well as the legal opinions that interpret those statutes.

As we mark another FOIA anniversary, I join Americans from across the political spectrum in celebrating all that this law has come to symbolize about our vibrant democracy. After four decades, we have much to celebrate about this open government law. We in Congress also have much more work to do to help ensure that FOIA's values of openness and accountability remain in place for future generations of Americans.

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