Most taxpayers might believe that federal government records are public absent some compelling reason to classify them differently. That would be wrong– until now.
On Monday (June 13), the U.S. House passed via voice vote a measure that requires federal agencies to consider the release of government documents under a “presumption of openness” instead of defaulting to the position that everything is secret until labeled otherwise.
The bill shrinks the number of exemptions that federal agencies may cite to deny information.
It also simplifies the process for submitting a Freedom of Information Act request, creating a single mechanism for seeking documents rather than leaving each agency to set its own standards.
The bipartisan legislation– sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, U.S. Senator (R-Texas), and Patrick Leahy, a US Senator (D-Vermont)– passed the Senate three months ago and will now go to the president, who is expected to sign it.
The bill is long overdue. But …
History offers little reason for optimism.
The Obama executive branch has typically responded to record requests with a tortoise-like sense of diligence and urgency.
In 2014, the Associated Press reported, “The Obama administration set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them.”
In addition, “The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly.”
Agencies would deny information even when its release was required by law.
The Obama administration “acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law– but only when it was challenged,” the wire service reported.
This is simply unacceptable.
The Cornyn-Leahy legislation “sends a clear message that the American people have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing,” said Cornyn.
But now let’s see how a lame-duck administration that has failed miserably to live up to its promise as the “most transparent in history” will actually deal with the law between now and January.–Las Vegas Review Journal