[Congressional Record: June 29, 2011 (Senate)]
[Page S4212]

                       FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, on July 4, the Nation will celebrate the 
45th anniversary of the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, 
FOIA. Now in its fifth decade, FOIA remains an indispensable tool for 
shedding light on government policies and government abuses. This 
premier open government law has helped to guarantee the public's 
``right to know'' for generations of Americans.
  Today, the U.S. Government is more committed than in any time in our 
history to making and keeping government open and accountable to the 
people. As one of his first official acts, President Obama signed an 
historic Presidential Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act, 
which restored the presumption of disclosure for all government 
information. I applaud President Obama for his commitment to FOIA, and 
I will continue to work closely with his administration to ensure that 
our government fulfills both the letter and spirit of this remarkable 
  While the Obama administration has made significant progress in 
improving the FOIA process, large backlogs remain a major roadblock to 
public access to information. A report released by the National 
Security Archive found that only about half of the Federal agencies 
surveyed have taken concrete steps to update their FOIA policies in 
light of the President's reforms. According to the Department of 
Justice's annual FOIA Report for fiscal year 2010, more than 69,000 
FOIA requests remain backlogged across our government. These delays are 
simply unacceptable.
  To address these concerns, in May, the Senate unanimously passed the 
Faster FOIA Act of 2011--a bill to establish a bipartisan commission to 
examine the root causes of agency delays in processing FOIA requests. 
Senator Cornyn and I first introduced this bill in 2005, because we 
were concerned about the growing problem of excessive FOIA delays 
within our Federal agencies. During the intervening years, this problem 
has not gone away. That is why in 2010, we reintroduced this bill and 
the Senate unanimously passed it. Unfortunately, the House of 
Representatives did not take action. After the Judiciary Committee's 
hearing on FOIA, which was held during the annual Sunshine Week in 
March, we reintroduced the Faster FOIA Act yet again--with the hope 
that the Congress would finally enact this good government legislation. 
I am pleased that the Senate has done its part to achieve this goal. On 
the occasion of this 45th anniversary of FOIA, I urge the House to act 
on this important bill so that the Commission on Freedom of Information 
Act Processing Delays can begin its important work.
  I thank Senator Cornyn for his work on this bill and for his 
leadership on this issue. I also commend and thank the many open 
government and FOIA advocacy groups that have supported our efforts to 
bolster FOIA, including OpenTheGovernment.org, the Project on 
Government Oversight and the Sunshine in Government Initiative.
  The right to know is a cornerstone of our democracy. Without it, 
citizens are kept in the dark about key policy decisions that directly 
affect their lives. Without open government, citizens cannot make 
informed choices at the ballot box. And once eroded, the right to know 
is hard to win back.
  The House Committee Report that accompanied the Freedom of 
Information Act in 1966 stated:

     it is vital to our way of life to reach a workable balance 
     between the right of the public to know and the need of the 
     Government to keep information in confidence to the extent 
     necessary without permitting indiscriminate secrecy. The 
     right of the individual to be able to find out how his 
     Government is operating can be just as important to him as 
     his right to privacy and his right to confide in his 
     Government. This bill strikes a balance considering all these 

  As we reflect upon the celebration of another FOIA anniversary, we in 
Congress must reaffirm the commitment to open and transparent 
government captured by these time-proven words.
  Open government is neither a Democratic issue, nor a Republican 
issue--it is truly an American value and virtue that we all must 
uphold. It is in this bipartisan spirit that I join Americans from 
across the political spectrum in celebrating the 45th anniversary of 
FOIA and all that this law has come to symbolize about our vibrant