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SPJ: Signing of FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 a step in right direction


Paul Fletcher, SPJ National President, 804-873-1893, pfletcher.spj@gmail.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is thrilled that the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 has been signed by President Barack Obama as the 50th anniversary of the original FOIA law approaches.

“We have a little something extra to celebrate this Fourth of July,” said SPJ National President Paul Fletcher. “SPJ and more than 50 other journalism and open government organizations have been pushing for a more open and transparent government for quite some time. It is especially fitting that this reform bill was signed almost exactly 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson signed the original FOIA law on July 4, 1966.

“This law is important for not only journalists, but the public as well,” Fletcher added. “An open government is a healthy and robust government. When government leaders and agencies are allowed to keep information secret and hidden, journalists and citizens alike are kept in the dark and the foundations of American democracy fail. This reform is in line with what American democracy is all about.”

The new and improved FOIA will:

• Help ensure that agencies release documents under a “presumption of openness.”
• Speed up the process of obtaining records for journalists and citizens alike.
• Require the government to create one single online portal that all agencies will use.
• Make more records available to the public.
• Help journalists and citizens monitor what the government is or is not doing.
• Give the FOIA Ombudsman the independence it needs to mediate FOIA disputes and make recommendations to Congress and the President on ways agencies can help improve FOIA responses.

“Many people have worked for many years toward seeing this bipartisan set of reforms pass,” Fletcher said. “We want to congratulate and thank everyone involved in making this happen. These are important steps to strengthen disclosure under FOIA.”

This achievement is due to the hard work of the bill’s sponsors. SPJ joins all the Sunshine in Government Initiative partners in especially thanking House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Md. for their leadership and working on a bipartisan basis, as well as Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chaired the committee in the 113th Congress and introduced the original House bill (H.R. 653). In the Senate, we appreciate the commitment and work over several years on a bipartisan basis by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and Senator John Cornyn, R-Tx. Their bipartisan, bicameral efforts help make our government more transparent and accountable to the public.

For some recent examples of how FOI requests for public records shed new light on government actions and community issues, visit the Sunshine Week FOI in Action web page. For more information on the administration's commitment to transparency, visit the fact sheet.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.

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