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23.02.22

Washington, DC (February 23, 2022)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chair of the Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. James Comer, Ranking Member of the Oversight and Reform Committee, Senator Dick Durbin, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Chuck E. Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the 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 implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in a manner that emphasizes on openness and transparency.

“Congress enacted FOIA so that the American people can better understand the decisions made by their government,” the members wrote to the attorney general. “The FOIA requires that agencies respond to requests for information with a presumption of openness and without unnecessary holdbacks, redactions, or delays. A clear message from you that transparency is a priority would encourage agencies to fully comply with the law. “

The DOJ is responsible for encouraging agency FOIA compliance, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found serious problems with FOIA compliance in recent years.

In January 2021, the GAO published a report finding that from 2012 to 2019, the increased use of statutory exemptions by agencies exceeded the overall growth in FOIA requests. In other report published in 2021, the GAO found that 25 agencies reported no proactive disclosures in 2018 and 2019. The DOJ’s Office of Information Policy (OIP), which is responsible for facilitating agency compliance with the FOIA, did not track or investigate why these agencies reported zero proactive disclosures. disclosures.

Last month, the GAO released another report finding that in the first year of the pandemic, agencies processed 12% fewer applications than the previous year. The report also revealed that the backlog of applications increased by 97% from 2012 to 2020 and by 18% from 2019 to 2020.

“A clear message from you that transparency is a priority would encourage agencies to improve FOIA implementation. We ask that you respond in writing by March 9, 2022, to notify our committees when the Department plans to issue a FOIA memorandum and any new steps the OIP is taking to implement GAO recommendations to ensure that agencies comply with proactive FOIA measures. disclosure obligation and that reporting requirements are effectively updated.

Click on here to read today’s letter.

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