The Sunlight Foundation is heavily involved in reforming FOIA, and the FOIA Improvement Act is our dog in the fight. Well, specifically, it’s Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Patrick Leahy’s, D-Vt.
It was reassuring to see Cornyn bring the bill to Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch’s attention yesterday. Specifically, he called on Lynch to commit to supporting one of the critical components of the bill: the presumption of openness.
The presumption says, in short, that if there isn’t a foreseeable harm in releasing documents under FOIA, an agency shouldn’t withhold it simply because it can do so under the discretionary exemptions within FOIA, most notably B5. Despite the fact that it’s already the standard policy by an executive memoranda issued on President Obama’s first day in office, it’s also the provision of the law that’s currently being targeted most by people who don’t want FOIA reform.
Strangely, the Department of Justice is one of the agencies that has moved to stop President Obama’s presumption from being codified by Congress.
Cornyn explains some of the above in the video; it’s great to see that he does not plan to let the broadly supported and popular legislation wither on the vine.
Less heartening was Lynch’s response. Similar to the secret law questions that Sunlight wrote about yesterday, Lynch’s answer was largely equivocation from a nominee that few expect to have any problem getting confirmed: There certainly wasn’t a “yes,” and instead we got a commitment to work with senators on the issue, which sounds a lot like a “no.”
It simply shouldn’t be a big ask to get one of the most senior people in government to announce support for the president’s expressed will. And it also shouldn’t be a big ask for President Obama to reiterate his own support for it, or to ensure that his own agencies don’t get in the way of FOIA reform. Maybe we’ll be able to find out why the executive branch has been so quiet on the issue in a decade or so – or sooner if FOIA reform passes this year.