Why Is This One Congressman Trying to Block FOIA?

by Will Potter on December 7, 2014

in Terrorism Legislation

Image_Jay RockefellerThe United States is in dire need of an improved Freedom of Information Act, not just for journalists and academics, but because every citizen has the right to know what their government is doing. A new, straightforward attempt to do this called the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 (S. 2520) has massive support—a version passed the House 410-0—but there is one man trying to shut this bipartisan effort down.

Outgoing Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia is single-handedly trying to stop the transparency legislation by not letting it come up for a vote. On Thursday he put a hold on the bill, and refused to comment. When he did, he issued a brief non-statement saying more transparency would “have the unintended consequence of harming our ability to enforce the many important federal laws…”

The FOIA Improvement Act would, for example:

* Close a loophole that the Department of Justice uses to withhold 25-year-old documents as “drafts.” This would release long-sought CIA documents on the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, for instance.

* Protect FOIA requestors from the exorbitant fees many agencies charge as a means to discourage FOIA requests.

Amy Bennett of OpenTheGovernment.org, the coalition behind the new bill, says that Rockefeller’s unfounded claims shouldn’t be allowed to stop a bipartisan bill.

“This bill was carefully put together by Senator Leahy and Senator Cornyn, who have worked together to strengthen FOIA for the last decade, and unanimously passed by the Judiciary Committee,” she said. “The bottom-line for the tons of FOIA experts from inside and outside government that have vetted this bill is the same: it is a good bill and should be signed into law.”

According to Ryan Shapiro, a transparency researcher and FOIA specialist at MIT:

“Unless Sen. Rockefeller wants to be remembered as a champion of governmental secrecy and obfuscation, he must lift his ill-considered hold immediately.”


Tell Senator Rockefeller “Lift the hold, improve the Freedom of Information Act”

Senator Rockefeller on Twitter

Senator Rockefeller on Facebook


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