National Press Club asks President Obama to fulfill FOIA promises
February 25, 2013 | By Jeff Plungis | email@example.com
The National Press Club joined a coalition of 49 groups writing to President Barack Obama last week to underscore concern that the administration isn't living up to its open-government goals.
The president issued a memorandum on January 21, 2009 -- his first full day in office -- to all federal agencies stating that the Freedom of Information Act "encourages accountability through transparency" and "is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open government."
The administration's record hasn't met that vision. Delays in routine FOIA requests are common. Agencies can sit on requests well past the deadlines spelled out in law, sometimes for years.
"President Obama set a high bar for the federal government, one the National Press Club wholeheartedly endorsed," said club president Angela Greiling Keane. "In reality, there's a long way to go. We hope to see quick progress in the second term."
The letter was organized by OpenTheGovernment.org, a Washington-based coalition that advocates for access to government information. Others signing on included the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Freedom of Information Center at the Missouri School of Journalism, Reporters Without Borders, the Project on Government Oversight and the Sunlight Foundation.
The National Press Club, located in Washington, DC, is the world's leading professional organization for journalists. The Club is an outspoken advocate of press freedom and open government in the United States and globally.
The entire letter follows:
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
February 19, 2013
Dear President Obama:
The undersigned organizations, concerned with government openness and accountability, are writing to ask you to bring renewed attention to issues that continue to plague government-wide implementation, compliance, and enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
We strongly agree with your statements in the Jan. 21, 2009, memorandum that the FOIA "encourages accountability through transparency," and "is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government." However, as we have discussed with you and your staff, delays and other barriers in FOIA practice at the agency level continue to prevent the public from timely access to information about the federal government’s activities.
As you likely know, a Feb. 4, 2013, letter from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice brings attention and focus on some of the issues that continually frustrate FOIA requesters and are major concerns for the transparency community. In particular, the letter asks OIP to provide the Committee with detailed information about its actions related to outdated FOIA regulations, excessive fee assessments, growing FOIA backlogs, and the misuse of exemptions. This letter is an excellent step towards identifying where a lack of oversight and attention on the part of OIP is contributing to these problems, and we look forward to Congressional oversight hearings.
Your Administration has set high standards for implementation of the FOIA. You and the Attorney General have set a clear standard of the presumption of openness, and directed agencies to take affirmative steps to make government information more available to the public. Given the continued issues requesters have with the FOIA, however, it appears that these principles and policies are not receiving the requisite attention by high-ranking agency officials to ensure they are followed.
By renewing attention to and strengthening oversight of implementation of the FOIA, your Administration can help usher in the new era of open Government you and we want to effect. We hope you will join with the transparency community in paying close attention to the answers OIP delivers to the questions posed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and will act quickly to address any issues.
Thank you in advance for your attention to this issue of critical importance to transparent and accountable government. To discuss these issues in greater detail, please contact Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-332-6736.
American Association of Law Libraries
American Association of University Professors
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Library Association
American Society of News Editors
Association of American Publishers
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee – BORDC
Cause of Action
Center for Effective Government (formerly OMB Watch)
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – CREW
Defending Dissent Foundation
Electronic Frontier Foundation – EFF
Electronic Privacy Information Center – EPIC
First Amendment Coalition
Freedom of Information Center at the Missouri School of Journalism
Freedom to Read Foundation
Friends of the Earth
Government Accountability Project – GAP
The James Madison Project
Mine Safety and Health News
Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Coalition for History
National Freedom of Information Coalition
National Press Club
National Priorities Project
National Security Archive
Project On Government Oversight – POGO
Reporters Without Borders
Society of American Archivists
Society of Professional Journalists
Special Libraries Association
Student Press Law Center
Taxpayers for Common Sense
Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University
Utah Foundation for Open Government
Washington Civil Rights Council
Washington Coalition for Open Government