Senate Adopts Leahy Amendment To Promote Transparency In Defense Auth. Bill
WASHINGTON (Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011) – The U.S. Senate Thursday adopted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to limit an overbroad legislative exemption to the Freedom of Information Act. The amendment was adopted unanimously. The Senate will vote on final passage of the NDAA later this evening.
Leahy’s amendment adds a public interest balancing test requiring the Secretary of Defense to consider whether the disclosure of critical infrastructure information would reveal vulnerabilities that would result in harm to government property or facilities, and whether the public interest in the disclosure of this information outweighs the government’s need to withhold the information.
“The addition of this measure to the National Defense Authorization Act will help ensure that FOIA remains a viable tool for access to Department of Defense information that impacts the health and safety of the American public,” said Leahy. “This improvement to the bill will help ensure that truly sensitive information is protected, while allowing the public to obtain important information about potential health and safety concerns.”
Leahy has been a longtime leader on open government issues, and was a lead author of the OPEN Government Act, which made the first major reforms to FOIA in more than a decade. He has led efforts this Congress to pass the Faster FOIA Act, which would make further improvements to FOIA by addressing the growing backlogs of FOIA requests and reduce delays in granting requests. The Senate has twice approved the Faster FOIA Act this year, but it has stalled in the House of Representatives.
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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Committee On The Judiciary,
On Senate Adoption of Freedom of Information Act Amendment
To The National Defense Authorization Act, S. 1867
December 1, 2011
I am pleased that the Senate has unanimously adopted my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This measure appropriately narrows the overbroad exemptions to FOIA contained in the bill and will help ensure that the American public has access to important information about potential threats to their health and safety at or near Department of Defense facilities.
I thank Senator Levin and Senator McCain for working with me on this issue and including this language, with our agreed to modifications, in the managers’ package for this bill. I also thank the many open government groups from across the political spectrum that support this amendment, including OpentheGovernment.org, the Liberty Coalition, the Sunlight Foundation and the American Library Association.
For more than 45 years, the Freedom of Information Act has been a cornerstone of open government and a hallmark of our democracy, ensuring that the American people have access to their Government’s records. The addition of this measure to the National Defense Authorization Act will help ensure that FOIA remains a viable tool for access to Department of Defense information that impacts the health and safety of the American public.
I am particularly pleased that the language adopted by the Senate includes a public interest balancing test that requires the Secretary of Defense to consider whether the Government’s interests in withholding critical infrastructure information are outweighed by other public interests. This improvement to the bill will help ensure that truly sensitive information is protected, while allowing the public to obtain important information about potential health and safety concerns.
This language adopted by the Senate strikes an appropriate balance between safeguarding the ability of the Department of Defense to perform its vital mission and the public’s right to know. I am pleased that this measure has been included in this important legislation with the unanimous support of the Senate.