It’d be swell if the flap over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal email account catalyzed the passage of Freedom of Information Act reform in Congress. Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, laid out a strong case in the Guardian today for why both sides of the aisle should support reform:
Instead of both parties competing over who can be more secretive, like they did in the 2012 presidential campaign, this is also a great opportunity for 2016 presidential candidates to debate about who can deliver the most transparent White House. That doesn’t mean just voluntarily releasing emails you want the public to see – though that’s a start – but implementing lasting policy changes and laws that will change the trajectory of US secrecy law, which has grown out of control in the past decade.
The challenge is that the interests that didn’t want that reform to happen, both inside and outside of government, aren’t going to go away, from the financial industry to government agencies.
As readers no doubt recall, FOIA reform bills passed the U.S. Senate and House *unanimously* last year and yet failed to become law.
The pushback is already (quietly) happening in Congress, as reported last week in E&E publishing:
“I think a number of the agencies are probably concerned. This is the impression that I get: They think that you shouldn’t have this presumption that things should be revealed. In other words, there should be more of a screening process,” [Representative Elijah] Cummings said. “It’s hard for them to just come outright and say, ‘No, we don’t like that, we’re not going to do it.’ But I get that impression that they don’t feel that people need to have access to every record.”
Asked whether he or other lawmakers have heard from agencies regarding his bill, Cummings said their concerns about FOIA are more subtly made to Congress.
“In general, in general. But I don’t think it’s a big push, but that’s just the impression I get,” said the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
That doesn’t mean that reform won’t happen, or that it couldn’t be a political winner for members of both parties, particularly Republican Senators who aspire to higher office. This year, editorial boards are more outspoken on the issue and transparency could, once again, be a campaign issue. Here’s hoping that’s enough to lead to Congress enacting FOIA reform the country needs, not a watered down bill.