On Wednesday, May 6th, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Ensuring an Informed Citizenry: Examining the Administration’s Efforts to Improve Open Government.” The hearing discussed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which provides citizens with the right to request government records, thereby increasing openness, transparency, and accountability in government. Obstacles to the FOIA process, including delays due to failure to use best practices in electronic archiving and other up-to- date technologies, hinder the process.
In his opening statement, Chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley, discussed recent efforts to improve the FOIA process, including better access to electronic records. Grassley said:
“Earlier this year, the Committee reported the ‘FOIA Improvement Act of 2015’ to the full Senate for consideration. This bill codifies the ‘presumption of openness’ standard, so that agencies proactively disclose more information. Among other reforms, the bill makes it easier for the public to submit FOIA requests, and improves electronic access of agency records.”
IGI Co-Chair, Jason R. Baron, offered a written statement to the committee and for the record on behalf of the IGI. Jason had a distinguished career of over three decades in the federal service, including most recently serving as the Director of Litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Jason’s full statement is available for download. In it he offers his thoughts on the recent controversy involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recordkeeping practices and the negative impact of using private or commercial email systems on the FOIA process. He also made recommendations to the Committee on how to improve access to federal records, including through heightened monitoring of how federal agencies are progressing in their compliance with the Archivist’s 2012 Managing Government Records Directive .
We caught up with Jason to discuss the hearing and his remarks. He had this to say:
“I consider it an honor to have been asked by Chairman Grassley to submit written remarks in the form of a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which I attempted to analyze the issues raised by recent events in the news, and to place the controversy in a broader context. I am hopeful that the Committee will consider our recommendations, set out in the letter submitted on behalf of the IGI.”
View the hearing testimony here.