[Congressional Record: June 27, 2007 (Senate)]
[Page S8602-S8603]

                          OPEN GOVERNMENT ACT

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, on July 4, the Nation will celebrate the 
41st anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, landmark 
legislation that has guaranteed the public's ``right to know'' for 
generations of Americans. Regrettably, the Senate will mark this very 
important anniversary without having passed the Openness Promotes 
Effectiveness in Our National Government Act, the OPEN Government Act, 
S. 849, comprehensive legislation that Senator Cornyn and I introduced 
earlier this year to strengthen and reinvigorate FOIA for all 
  Responsive government and transparent decisionmaking are bedrock 
American values. FOIA honors and helps translate those values into 
practice, and the OPEN Government Act will help FOIA work better in 
serving the public's interest.
  The Judiciary Committee favorably reported this bipartisan 
legislation in April. But a Republican hold is delaying consideration 
of this important FOIA reform bill. The Senate Republican leadership 
has also ignored requests to debate this bill on the Senate floor, 
needlessly stalling these long-overdue, bipartisan reforms to 
strengthen FOIA.
  For more than four decades, FOIA's timeless values of openness and 
transparency in government have ensured access to Government 
information. Just this week, we witnessed the great value of FOIA in 
shedding light on a controversial policy within the Office of the Vice 
President regarding the handling of classified information, with news 
reports that a FOIA request to the Justice Department (pdf) first revealed 
that the Attorney General may have delayed a review into the legality 
of this troubling policy.
  Although FOIA remains an indispensable tool in shedding light on bad 
policies and Government abuses, this open Government law is being 
hampered by excessive delays and lax FOIA compliance. Today, Americans 
who seek information under FOIA remain less likely to obtain it than 
during any other time in FOIA's 40-plus year history. According to the 
National Security Archive, an independent research institute, the 
oldest outstanding FOIA requests date back to 1989, before the collapse 
of the Soviet Union.
  Moreover, more than a year after the President's FOIA Executive order 

[[Page S8603]]

improve agency FOIA performance, FOIA backlogs are at an alltime high. 
According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, 
Federal agencies had 43 percent more FOIA requests pending and 
outstanding in 2006 than in 2002. In addition, the percentage of FOIA 
requestors who obtained at least some of the information that they 
requested from the Government declined by 31 percent in 2006, according 
to a study by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government.
  As the first major reform to FOIA in more than a decade, the OPEN 
Government Act would help to reverse these troubling trends and to 
restore the public's trust in their Government. In so doing, this bill 
is a fitting tribute to FOIA and a wise investment in our American 
  The OPEN Government Act promotes and enhances public disclosure of 
Government information under FOIA by helping Americans to obtain timely 
responses to their FOIA requests. This bill also improves transparency 
in the Federal Government's FOIA process by restoring meaningful 
deadlines for agency action under FOIA; imposing real consequences on 
Federal agencies for missing FOIA's 20-day statutory deadline; 
clarifying that FOIA applies to Government records held by outside 
private contractors; establishing a FOIA hotline service for all 
Federal agencies; and creating a FOIA Ombudsman to provide FOIA 
requestors and Federal agencies with a meaningful alternative to costly 
  Let me also be clear about what this bill does not do. This bill does 
not harm or impede in any way the Government's ability to withhold or 
protect classified information. Classified, national security and 
homeland security-related information are all expressly exempt from 
FOIA's disclosure mandate, and this bill does nothing to alter these 
important exemptions. Senator Cornyn and I have also offered an 
amendment to this bill that would preserve the right of Federal 
agencies to assert these and other FOIA exemptions, even if agencies 
miss the 20-day statutory deadline under FOIA.
  The OPEN Government Act is cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 13 
Senators, including the bill's lead Republican cosponsor, Senator 
Cornyn. This bill is also endorsed by more than 115 business, public 
interest, and news organizations from across the political and 
ideological spectrum, including 
the American Library Association, 
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, OpenTheGovernment.org, Public Citizen, 
the Republican Liberty Caucus, the Sunshine in Government Initiative, 
and the Vermont Press Association. I thank all of the cosponsors of 
this bill for their commitment to open government. I also thank the 
many organizations that have endorsed the OPEN Government Act for their 
support of this legislation.
  The OPEN Government Act is a good-government bill that Democrats and 
Republicans alike can and should work together to enact. If there are 
legitimate concerns with this bill, those concerns should be openly 
debated and the Senate should promptly pass this legislation.
  Senator Cornyn and I both know that open government is not a 
Democratic issue or a Republican issue. It is an American issue. It is 
in this bipartisan spirit that I urge the Senate to promptly consider 
the OPEN Government Act and that I encourage all Senators to support 
this important FOIA reform legislation.
  I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a list of the 
bill's supporters following my remarks.
  There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in 
the Record, as follows:

   List of Supporters of the Leahy-Cornyn Open Government Act, S. 849

     Alliance for Justice
     America Association of Law Libraries
     American Association of Small Property Owners
     American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
     American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
     The American Conservative Union
     American Families United
     American Library Association
     American Society of Newspaper Editors, Member of Sunshine in 
         Government Initiative
     Animal Welfare Institute
     Assassination Archives and Research Center
     Associated Press, Member of Sunshine in Government Initiative
     Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, Member of Sunshine 
         in Government Initiative
     Association of American Publishers
     Bill of Rights Defense Committee
     Biodiversity Conservation Alliance
     Blancett Ranches, Aztec, NM
     Californians Aware
     Californians for Western Wilderness
     Center for Democracy and Technology
     Center for Energy Research
     Center for National Security Studies
     Citizen Action New Mexico
     Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
     Chamber of Commerce of the United States
     Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, Member of 
         Sunshine in Government Initiative
     Common Cause
     Community Recovery Services
     Conservation Congress
     Doctors for Open Government
     DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
     The E-Accountability
     Electronic Frontier Foundation
     Environmental Defense Institute
     Environmental Integrity Project
     Ethics in Government Group
     Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety & Health, Inc.
     Florida First Amendment Foundation
     Forest Guardians
     Friends Committee on National Legislation
     Friends of Animals
     Friends of the Wild Swan
     Georgia Forest Watch
     Georgians for Open Government
     Government Accountability Project
     Great Basin Mine Watch
     Gun Owners of America
     The Health Integrity Project
     HEAL Utah
     The Humane Society of the United States
     Idaho Sporting Congress, Inc.
     Indiana Coalition for Open Government
     The James Madison Project
     Law Librarian Association of Greater New York
     Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin
     League of Women Voters of the U.S.
     Liberty Coalition
     Los Alamos Study Group
     Maine Association of Broadcasters
     Mine Safety and Health News
     The Multiracial Activist
     National Association of Broadcasters, Member of Sunshine in 
         Government Initiative
     National Association of Manufacturers
     National Coalition Against Censorship
     National Freedom of Information Coalition
     National Newspaper Association, Member of Sunshine in 
         Government Initiative
     National Press Club
     National Security Archive
     National Taxpayers Union
     National Treasury Employees Union
     National Whistleblower Center
     Natural Resources Defense Council
     The New Grady Coalition
     Newspaper Association of America, Member of Sunshine in 
         Government Initiative
     No FEAR Coalition
     Northern California Association of Law Libraries
     Northwest Environmental Advocates
     Nuclear Watch New Mexico
     Okanogan Highlands Bottling Company
     OMB Watch
     Open Society Policy Center
     Oregon Natural Desert Association
     Oregon Peace Works
     Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc.
     People For the American Way
     Project On Government Oversight
     Public Citizen
     Radio-Television News Directors Association, Member of 
         Sunshine in Government Initiative
     ReadtheBill.org Education Fund
     Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Member of 
         Sunshine in Government Initiative
     Republican Liberty Caucus
     Reynolds, Motl & Sherwood, PLLP
     The Rutherford Institute
     Sagebrush Sea Campaign
     Semmelweis Society International
     Snake River Alliance
     Society of American Archivists
     Society of Professional Journalists, Member of Sunshine in 
         Government Initiative
     Southern California Association of Law Libraries
     Southwest Research and Information Center
     The Student Health Integrity Project
     Tax Analysts
     Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive 
     Union of Concerned Scientists
     VA Whistleblowers Coalition
     Vermont Coalition for Open Government
     Vermont Press Association
     Western Environmental Law Center
     Western Lands Project
     Western Resource Advocates
     The Wilderness Society
     Wild Wilderness
     Wilderness Workshop