Cummings Receives 2019 “Sunshine in Government” Award
Washington, D.C. (Mar. 8, 2019)— Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, received the “Sunshine in Government Award” from News Media for Open Government, a “broad coalition of news media and journalism organizations working to ensure laws, policies and practices preserve and protect freedom of the press, open government and the free flow of information in our democratic society.”
Cummings received the award and gave the keynote address at today’s Freedom of Information Day Conference. Below are his remarks prepared for delivery:
Chairman Elijah E. Cummings Freedom of Information Day March 8, 2019
Thank you very much for inviting me here today and for honoring me with the Sunshine in Government Award. It is especially gratifying to receive this award from the News Media for Open Government. I truly appreciate the critical work you do every single day.
Over the last two years, we have seen sinister attempts to undermine the free press. I want you to know that I view an attack on our press as an attack on all of us, and I will fight for you. We need the truth. And we need a free press to help us get the truth.
Every single day, you use the Freedom of Information Act and other transparency laws to perform your jobs. That is why it is so critical for Congress to safeguard your rights, and the rights of every person in our nation, to obtain information through FOIA.
FOIA is critical to helping the American people understand the decisions that are being made by their government. It is also critical to understanding who is influencing those decisions, and how those decisions will affect their daily lives.
When I took over as Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform in January, one of my first decisions was to determine which issues I wanted to have our able subcommittees handle, and which issues I wanted to handle at the full Committee level.
Because of the critical importance of FOIA and other federal records laws, I decided to keep those issues at the full Committee level in order to make sure that I give them my close personal attention.
One of our top priorities this Congress is to investigate agency compliance with FOIA and to evaluate how we can further improve the law. I hope that Republicans on our Committee will work with us in a collaborative and bipartisan manner because this is an issue that has traditionally been bipartisan.
In 2013, when I was in the minority, I worked with our Republican Chairman at the time, Rep. Darrell Issa, to introduce a FOIA reform bill. It took us three years of hard work and negotiation. And then, with the help of Senator John Cornyn and Senator Patrick Leahy, we got it over the finish line. President Obama signed it into law in 2016.
The FOIA Improvement Act is a prime example of how Congress can work together, keep our noses to the grindstone, and achieve positive results for the American people.
Now that I am Chairman, I am going to hold one of the Committee’s first hearings this Congress on FOIA. It will be on Wednesday, and you are all invited. We will hear testimony from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
I invited the Department of Justice because it is responsible for ensuring that federal agencies are complying with FOIA. In my opinion, they need to do a much, much better job because we are seeing far too much information being delayed and even withheld.
I invited the Department of the Interior because they just proposed a rule that would make it harder for requesters to obtain information under FOIA. In fact, last week, I sent a letter to the Department raising concerns about their proposed rule, and I was heartened to be joined by Senator Leahy, Senator Grassley, and Senator Cornyn.
I invited EPA because our Committee conducted an investigation last year of former Administrator Scott Pruitt and his senior staff, and we uncovered troubling issues with the way EPA was responding to FOIA requests. Administrator Pruitt’s Chief of Staff told us that they refer “politically charged” FOIA requests to political appointees for review. He also said that certain requests are deliberately delayed.
This is exactly why Congress needs to conduct robust oversight—to shine a light on these types of abuses.
Finally, since next week is Sunshine Week—that is the week when we focus on bringing greater transparency to government operations—I am bringing in Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. That hearing will be on Thursday. We want to know why he and other Trump Administration officials gave misleading testimony about how the citizenship question was added to the Census. This was a decision that experts across the board warned would harm the census and decrease the count.
As Oversight Committee Chairman, my immediate priority is to conduct exactly this type of rigorous and responsible oversight. Our work not only exposes problems in our government, but it helps us develop reforms for the future. That’s why our Committee is called Oversight and Reform.
I want to sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart for hosting this wonderful event, for bestowing on me this great honor, and for always highlighting the critical importance of transparency to our nation and our people.