As Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel noted in a recent weblog, the Freedom of Information Act has been under severe assault from the Bush Administration since October 2001, when Attorney General John Ashcroft began reversing long-standing FOIA policies.
Since its establishment in 1967, the FOIA has been critical in exposing waste, fraud and government abuse. FOIA replaced a “need to know” standard with a “right to know” threshold, putting a burden on the government to show that requested information should not be disclosed, rather than assuming the Government always had good reason to withhold data from the public. Unsurprisingly, the Bush Administration appears determined to systematically undermine this showpiece of good government legislation.
So comprehensive is the Administration‘s attack that the presidents of twenty major journalists’ organizations declared in a recent joint statement that Ashcroft’s “restrictions pose dangers to American democracy and prevent American citizens from obtaining the information they need.” (For example, FOIA allows neighbors who live near a chemical plant to get the same safety reports that the plant provides to the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor the plant’s compliance with emissions standards.)
To counter this onslaught, a handful of Democratic Senators, including Robert Byrd, Patrick Leahy, Carl Levin and Jim Jeffords, recently introduced S609– The Restore FOIA Act–which would re-establish legal protection for federal whistle-blowers and would revive public access to the type of health, safety and environmental information that citizens have had a right to obtain for the last thirty years.
The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee last March, where it will be voted on, probably in September, and then likely sent back to the full Senate for a chamber vote.
Click here to send a letter to your Senators imploring them to support the Restore FOIA Act. It’ll take about ninety second with The Nation‘s new online activist kit, and on this issue, it could really make a difference.