Federal Manager's Daily Report

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A bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders has urged the Justice Department, which oversees agency implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, to issue stronger requirements in light of a series of critical GAO reports.

“A clear message from you that transparency is a priority would encourage agencies to fully comply with the law,” said a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland from leaders of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with several other senators. “As the Biden administration enters its second year, the need for guidance becomes increasingly urgent.”

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In addition to emphasizing a presumption of openness, they said, such guidance should underscore that exceptions under the FOIA do not provide authority to withhold information from Congress, and that agencies should be properly training their employees on the law.

They cited separate GAO reports of recent years finding that agencies’ use of exceptions was growing faster than the number of requests received; that two dozen agencies do not have the required procedures in place to proactively disclose information that would be releasable under the law even without a request being received; and that processing of requests fell by 12 percent in 2020 over 2019 while the backlog increased by 18 percent.

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