SLA Joins Call to ‘Breathe Life Back’ into FOIA
Signs letters to U.S. attorney general, Senate Judiciary Committee
McLean, Virginia, U.S.A., 8 April 2021—The Special Libraries Association has joined with several public interest groups in sending letters to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee asking them to take steps to strengthen government compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“We have observed a disturbing trend toward significantly less disclosure and increased obstacles that agencies impose on FOIA requesters in the administrative process,” states the letter to Garland. “Increasingly the government has failed to meet the charge of freedom of information that FOIA demands, as reflected by the increasing volume of FOIA litigation, much of it designed to uncover information that lies at the heart of the statute. We urge you to take steps to address these growing problems.”
The letter urges the attorney general to issue a memorandum to all government offices explaining how they are to interpret and apply the FOIA, such as directing that for certain categories of records there should be a presumption of no harm that an agency must overcome to withhold information. The letter also asks Garland to order the Justice Department to review all pending FOIA litigation to identify cases in which government agencies are not meeting either the letter or the spirit of the FOIA.
“Too many agencies have used the FOIA as a shield from public accountability,” the letter states. “To assist in that review, you should provide a set of criteria for when [the Justice Department] will and will not continue to defend agencies in ongoing litigation.”
The letter to the Judiciary Committee requests that the senators conduct an oversight hearing on agency compliance with the FOIA. The letter emphasized that the hearing should include witnesses from outside government who have endured months-long or even years-long delays in receiving information from government agencies.
Both letters were submitted by Open the Government, a nonpartisan coalition that advocates for policies that create a more open, accountable, and responsive government. SLA was one of more than 30 organizations, including Government Information Watch, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Digital Democracy Project, that joined in signing the letters.
“SLA member librarians and information professionals hold dear the core principle of intellectual freedom,” says 2021 SLA President Tara Murray Grove. “The Freedom of Information Act is a linchpin of that principle and of the overarching concept of accountable government. We encourage the Department of Justice and the Senate Judiciary Committee to be proactive in strengthening the FOIA and holding the government accountable.”
The Special Libraries Association (SLA) is a nonprofit international organization for innovative information professionals and their strategic partners. SLA serves information professionals in more than 50 countries and in a range of working environments, including business, academia, and government agencies. SLA promotes and strengthens its members through learning, advocacy, and networking initiatives. For more information, visit sla.org.