Rockefeller under fire for blocking FOIA bill

Retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is being blamed for placing a secret hold on a bipartisan bill to update the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 

The bill, which the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved last month, has broad support among transparency advocates who have begun vocally criticizing Rockefeller for holding the bill up on his way out the door. 

{mosads}“If we can get the agreement of such a wide range of characters, why be the holdout?” said Amy Bennett, the assistant director of the Open the Government coalition, noting the support among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“This is how Congress is supposed to work. Not through last second holds.”

In a statement on Friday evening, Rockefeller said that he has “a long record of support for open government and the FOIA process,” but is worried that the bill could undermine some enforcement agencies. 

“I am concerned that provisions in this bill will have the unintended consequence of harming our ability to enforce the many important federal laws that protect American consumers from financial fraud and other abuses,” he said. “According to experts across the federal government, these provisions would make it harder for federal agency attorneys to prepare their cases, and they would potentially give defendants new ways to obstruct and delay investigations into their conduct.”

“I hope there is a way to address these concerns and pass the bill.”

The bill from Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) would require agencies to adopt a default policy of disclosing information unless it fell under a specific exemption or could cause harm to the government. President Obama adopted the policy in an executive order when he entered office but the new legislation would make it permanent. 

The bill would also create a council to help agencies comply with the transparency law and limit an exemption allowing the government to keep some internal documents secret, among other changes.

“I believe this legislation reaffirms the fundamental premise of FOIA, that government information belongs to all Americans,” Leahy said in a statement on Friday.

With only days left on the 2014 legislative calendar, supporters fear that time may be running out.

“This week, we can pass this bill in the Senate and send it over to the House, where I am confident that it will pass, and send it to the president to sign before the end of the year,” Leahy said. “There is no reason to delay this legislation, which has broad support from a range of stakeholders, costs very little to implement, and will improve access to government for all Americans.”

This post was updated at 6:35 p.m.

Tags Freedom of Information Act Jay Rockefeller
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