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SPJ President David Cuillier to address U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about FOIA issues



David Cuillier, SPJ National President, 520.248.6242, spjdave@yahoo.com
Ellen Kobe, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317.920.4785, ekobe@spj.org

SPJ President David Cuillier will testify before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday regarding problems journalists are encountering with the Freedom of Information Act and how the law can be improved.

"No doubt about it, FOIA is broken and needs an overhaul," Cuillier said. "Journalists are frustrated and angry about increasing delays, denials and over-zealous redactions. A lot of federal agencies have learned how to game the system, and it's time we push back."

Cuillier is one of three speakers representing the public records requester community, and he will also represent the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a consortium of nine journalism organizations dedicated to fostering government transparency.

The hearing will be held at 10:15 EST Tuesday in Washington, D.C., and will be televised on CSPAN. It also will be webcast live and available for viewing later at the Senate Judiciary Committee website, along with Cuillier's written testimony.

The hearing is titled "Open Government and Freedom of Information: Reinvigorating the Freedom of Information Act for the Digital Age." It will be led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, who was awarded the SPJ First Amendment award in 2004, as well as Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who earned an SPJ Sunshine Award in 2001.

Panel 1 of the hearing will represent the government, including representatives from the Department of Justice and the Office of Government Information Services. The second panel will represent requesters, including Amy Bennett from OpenTheGovernment.org, Daniel Metcalfe from the Collaboration on Government Secrecy, and Cuillier.

Cuillier, who is director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism and a former SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman, will focus on the increasing problems journalists and other citizens are facing with FOIA and potential solutions, including giving OGIS enforcement powers to force agencies to provide records when they should, streamline the request system to reduce delays, and narrow exemptions to reduce willy-nilly denials.

"It's outrageous how brazen some agencies are," Cuillier said.

For example, Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette has been stonewalled by the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the chemical contamination of the drinking water supply that affected 300,000 people in January. When he asked for records regarding the effects of the chemicals on pregnant women, and asked for expedited review, the CDC responded by saying there was no "urgent need" to inform the public.

"It's crucial Congress adopts real FOIA reform," Cuillier said. "Until then, agencies will continue to use the law to hide secrets that need telling."

Cuillier also testified on behalf of SPJ in 2010 for the House Information Policy, Census, and National Archives Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information on SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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