The hearing will be at 7 a.m. Tucson time and streamed live online at http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/meetings/foia-at-fifty-has-the-sunshine-laws-promise-been-fulfilled
WASHINGTON — University of Arizona School of Journalism Director David Cuillier will testify Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on ways of improving citizen access to public records through the Freedom of Information Act.
Cuillier, who teaches and researches access to public records, 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,” Cuillier said. “In this digital age we have phenomenal opportunities to increase the flow of information to improve our lives and hold government accountable.”
This will be the third time Cuillier has testified before Congress about FOIA. He last spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2014, 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 led to thousands of important issues coming 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, Miriam Nisbet, former director of the Office of Government Information Services, and Margaret Kwoka, a law professor from the University of Denver. The hearing will be at 7 a.m. Mountain Standard Time and streamed live online at http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/meetings/foia-at-fifty-has-the-sunshine-laws-promise-been-fulfilled
Cuillier joined a delegation of journalists in a December meeting with the White House press secretary to urge more transparency from federal executive agencies. He is former president and freedom of information chair for the Society of Professional Journalists and a current board member for the National Freedom of Information Coalition and First Amendment Coalition of Arizona. He is co-author of The Art of Access: Strategies for Accessing Public Records and Transparency 2.0: Digital Data and Privacy in a Wired World.