Since first taking office more than 30 years ago, I’ve held a firm belief that government should be conducted in an open and transparent manner. Government officials are rightly held to a higher standard of scrutiny and accountability, and that includes being truthful and forthcoming to the men and women they’ve been elected to serve.
A recent poll shows that just 13 percent of Americans agree that the government can be trusted to do what is right all or most of the time. At a time when faith in the federal government is at an all-time low, measures to repair some of that trust are as important as ever. I am cosponsoring legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to bring additional transparency and accountability to the federal government.
Now nearing 50 years since being signed into law, FOIA grants the public access to previously unreleased material from the federal government. It is based on the principle that transparency promotes accountability. FOIA allows taxpayers, whose interests federal employees are tasked with representing, an opportunity to evaluate their efforts. Throughout the years, FOIA has been updated to meet changing information interests and systems. Our legislation would again provide much-needed updates.
The bipartisan FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 would establish new standards for determining whether or not certain requested information is exempt from being released. It would close loopholes that currently allow FOIA requests to be rejected. This is extremely important amid reports that the use of said loopholes is at an all-time high.
Our bill would also improve access by removing barriers such as time delays and prohibitive costs for copies of documents. It would require federal agencies to provide electronic records for public access of certain information, a natural progression in the 21st century. To ensure continued transparency, our bill would establish a Chief FOIA Officers Council to develop recommendations for increasing compliance and efficiency.
Transparency in government is essential and fundamental to our democracy. When President Obama took office, he promised to run the most transparent administration in history. Unfortunately, the opposite appears to be happening, according to reports from respected news organizations. This emphasizes the need to pass commonsense legislation to update FOIA. The House of Representatives passed its version of the FOIA Improvement Act earlier this year; it is now time for the Senate to act.
As servants to the American public, government officials must be open and forthcoming in the information they provide. The FOIA Improvement Act bolsters an important avenue to achieve accountability. It is a small yet meaningful step in being a “check against corruption.”