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Cummings Issues Statement on Partisan Republican FOIA Report

Jan 11, 2016
Press Release

Cummings Issues Statement on Partisan Republican FOIA Report

 

Washington, D.C. (Jan. 11, 2016)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement in response to a partisan Republican staff report on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that was released today without any Committee markup:

“The President promised openness, and he delivered.  President Obama reversed the Bush Administration’s presumption of secrecy, and federal agencies are now responding to more FOIA requests than ever before.  Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress starved agencies of resources as FOIA requests increased to record levels, and then they act surprised that there are backlogs.  There is no doubt that the FOIA process can and must be improved, which is why I have worked tirelessly on bipartisan legislation that the House will vote on today.  But issuing this erroneous, incomplete, and highly partisan staff report—which has never been vetted or voted on by the Committee—will not help these goals.”

Republicans made no effort to issue a credible, bipartisan report.

Despite the Oversight Committee’s long history of issuing bipartisan FOIA reports, Republicans drafted this report in a partisan manner.  It was issued without any consideration by the Committee, without any markup, and without any opportunity for Committee Members to offer amendments to correct its errors.  No Member of the Committee has voted on this report.  Despite the fact that the Committee has been able to work in a bipartisan manner on other reports, such as the recently adopted report on the Secret Service, Republicans instead chose to revert back to a model utilized by former Chairman Darrell Issa.

 

Report represents a partisan attack on the Obama Administration.

The report unfairly criticizes the Obama Administration while disregarding dramatic improvements in transparency compared to the Bush Administration.

For example, he Bush Administration directed the Justice Department to defend agency decisions to withhold records as long as it had a legal basis for doing so.  On his first day in office, President Obama reversed this policy and directed agencies to implement a presumption of openness. 

On May 6, 2015, Tom Blanton, the Director of the National Security Archive, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee:  

“Compared to five years ago, we clearly have access to much more government information than ever before.”

Republicans have starved agencies while FOIA requests have increased.

From 2009 to 2014, the overall number of FOIA requests submitted to federal agencies increased by 28%, with new records set in each of the past four years in a row.   Yet, the total number of FOIA personnel has now dropped to its lowest point at any time since President Obama took office.  In 2009, the number of full-time FOIA staff at federal agencies was 4,000.  In 2014, the number of full-time FOIA staff dropped to 3,838—a decrease of about 4%.

Report is filled with discredited allegations.

The report’s assertions of political interference have been debunked.  For example, the State Department Inspector General provided a briefing on January 7, 2016, for House and Senate staff during which investigators reported that they found no evidence of political interference with FOIA implementation in the Secretary of State’s office.  The partisan Republican report ignores this fact.

The report also discusses a Committee investigation of FOIA implementation at the Department of Homeland Security.  The Inspector General testified to the Committee in 2011 that he found no instances in which information was withheld by the Secretary’s office for partisan political purposes.  Again, the report ignores this fact.

Finally, the report cites a memo issued by the White House issued regarding White House equities in FOIA responses.  Yet, the report ignores a memo issued in 1988 similarly directing agencies to forward records involving the White House to the Office of the Counsel to the President for any recommendations or comments.

Cummings and Rep. Darrell Issa first introduced the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act in March of 2013.

114th Congress