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SPJ to testify before Senate committee on FOIA’s future


David Cuillier, SPJ FOI Committee Member and Past President,
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134,

Washington, D.C. – Society of Professional Journalists Freedom of Information Committee member and past president David Cuillier will testify Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on ways to improve access to public records through the Freedom of Information Act.

Cuillier, who served as FOI Committee chair for years and president 2013-14, was invited by committee chair Sen. Charles Grassley to speak on the four-member panel titled “FOIA at Fifty: Has the Sunshine Law’s Promise Been Fulfilled?”

“This is a great opportunity to step back, look at how FOIA has helped the public, and talk about ways we can make it even better,” said Cuillier, who teaches and researches FOI as director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism. “In this digital age we have phenomenal opportunities to increase the flow of information to improve our lives and hold government accountable.”

The hearing will be at 10 a.m. EDT and streamed live online.

This will be the third time Cuillier has represented SPJ before Congress regarding FOIA. He last spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2014 on behalf of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, urging Congress to codify the presumption that government information is open unless disclosure would cause foreseeable harm, strengthen the FOIA ombudsman office, and streamline requests online.

Congress incorporated all of the suggestions into FOIA in the latest round of amendments signed into law June 30, on the eve of the law’s 50th anniversary, initially enacted July 4, 1966.

“Despite cynicism about gridlock in Washington, Democrats and Republicans can actually work together collaboratively for the good of everyone,” Cuillier said. “We have to keep at it, though.”

Cuillier said he will recommend that Congress strengthen FOIA by adding enforcement provisions for agencies that break the law. “Without penalties for noncompliance a lot of agencies game the system and use FOIA as a tool of secrecy – clamping down on information that the public should know about.”

He also will recommend limiting the reasons agencies can use to keep information secret, and streamline the system to avoid long delays and exorbitant fees that dissuade average people from requesting information.

“While FOIA has helped journalists, watchdog groups and citizens bring thousands of important issues to light, the law is broken,” Cuillier said. “Information denials are on the increase and most journalists avoid it altogether because of the hassles and delays that can drag on for years.”

More than 100 other nations have FOIA laws, and the United States’ law ranks 45th in the world for its strength in helping citizens access information, behind such countries as Mexico, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan, Cuillier said.

The other three speakers on Tuesday’s panel will be Rick Blum from the Sunshine in Government Initiative which represents SPJ and other journalism groups, Miriam Nisbet, former director of the Office of Government Information Services, and Margaret Kwoka, a law professor from the University of Denver.

Cuillier joined a delegation of journalists in an SPJ-led December meeting with the White House press secretary to urge more transparency from federal executive agencies. He is a current board member for the National Freedom of Information Coalition and co-author of The Art of Access: Strategies for Accessing Public Records and Transparency 2.0: Digital Data and Privacy in a Wired World.

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