The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has joined a letter sent by 50 transparency and open government organizations to President Obama asking for his position on legislative reform to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Citing the President’s day-one commitment to transparency, the letter points out that there remain “many challenges in fulfilling” that goal. “FOIA remains one of the most effective tools for the public to know what its government is up to,” the letter states, but “changing agency practices under that statute to meet your transparency goals has been especially challenging.”
Accordingly, the letter identifies six core components of FOIA reform that must be legislatively mandated to ensure realization of the President’s stated open government goals:
- Codifying the presumption of disclosure under FOIA;
- Codifying the foreseeable harm standard as identified in Attorney General Eric Holder’s March 19, 2009 memorandum;
- Adding a public interest balancing test to Exemption 5 for material protected by the deliberative process privilege;
- Creating a 25 year sunset for withholding material under Exemption 5;
- Ensuring that fees cannot be assessed by agencies that do not respond to FOIA requests within statutory deadlines; and
- Enhancing and expanding the role of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).
Because past administrations have had varying approaches to disclosure under FOIA, the letter to President Obama states that “[o]nly statutory reform and your public commitment to that reform will ensure the commitments you have made last beyond your presidency.”
The Reporters Committee routinely engages in a multitude of activities to support open government efforts, including filing amicus briefs and administrative comments, providing federal and state open government guides, and maintaining its free iFOIA system.