Bipartisan, Bicameral Leaders Urge DOJ to Issue FOIA Guidance that Prioritizes Transparency
Washington, D.C. (Feb. 23, 2022)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Rep. James Comer, Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Sen. Dick Durbin, Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Chuck E. Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Senator Patrick Leahy, and Senator John Cornyn sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland of the Department of Justice (DOJ) urging him to issue a memorandum to all agencies encouraging the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in a manner that emphasizes openness and transparency.
“Congress enacted FOIA so the American people could better understand the decisions being made by their government,” the Members wrote to the Attorney General. “FOIA requires that agencies respond to requests for information with a presumption of openness and without unnecessary withholdings, redactions, or delays. A clear message from you that transparency is a priority would encourage agencies to fully comply with the law.”
DOJ is responsible for encouraging agency compliance with FOIA, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found serious problems with FOIA compliance in recent years.
In January 2021, GAO released a report finding that from 2012 to 2019, agencies’ increased use of statutory exemptions outpaced the growth in FOIA requests overall. In another report issued in 2021, GAO found that 25 agencies reported zero proactive disclosures in 2018 and 2019. DOJ’s Office of Information Policy (OIP), which is responsible for facilitating agencies’ compliance with FOIA, did not follow up or investigate why these agencies reported zero proactive disclosures.
Last month, GAO released another report finding that in the first year of the pandemic, agencies processed 12% fewer requests than in the previous year. The report also found that the request backlog increased 97% from 2012 to 2020 and was up 18% from 2019 to 2020.
“A clear message from you that transparency is a priority would encourage agencies to improve FOIA implementation. We request that you respond in writing by March 9, 2022, to inform our Committees when the Department plans to issue a FOIA memorandum and of any new steps that OIP is taking to implement GAO’s recommendations in order to ensure that agencies are complying with FOIA’s proactive disclosure requirement and that reporting requirements are effectively updated.”
Click here to read today’s letter.