Independence Day July 4 marks 54 years since the landmark Freedom of Information Act went into effect — yet some Americans are still distrustful of government.
The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966. This legislation gives citizens the right to request and obtain documents from any agency of the Executive Branch of the United States Government except those that are exempted by statute such as classified documents.
FOIA applies only to federal government agencies. Each agency is responsible for meeting FOIA responsibilities for its own records and for having specific information available on its website. Each agency must provide clear description of its central and field organizations and places from which the public may obtain information, make requests, or obtain decisions.
The law has been amended over the years, first in 1974, following the Watergate scandal. In 1976, the Sunshine Act amendments specified several exemptions, such as national defense. A Presidential Executive Order in 1982 allowed withholding information related to national security.
The Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 required certain types of records to be available electronically. In 2001, a Presidential Executive Order restricted access to records of former Presidents. The Intelligence Authorization Act of 2002 precluded any covered US intelligence agency from disclosing records in response to requests made by foreign governments.
The “Open Government Act of 2007,” signed by President Bush, was a bipartisan effort to achieve meaningful reforms with over a dozen substantive provisions to achieve four objectives:
• Strengthen FOIA and close loopholes.
• Help FOIA requestors obtain timely responses to their requests.
• Ensure that agencies have strong incentives to act on FOIA requests in a timely fashion.
• Provide FOIA officials with all the tools they need to ensure that our government remains open and accessible.
The Freedom of Information Act and related state Sunshine and Open Door Laws are only as good as citizens demand that they be. They are fundamental to the health of our democracy and require vigilance.
So the LWV encourages you to exercise your right to know. The key to a healthy, open and trusted government is public participation. Ensure the transparency of our government by seeking records when appropriate, attending a governmental meeting, or educating others about the importance of our right to know.
Members of the League of Women Voters regularly observe more than 20 Crawfordsville and Montgomery County councils, commissions and boards, including school boards. The LWV is always working to keep our community strong, healthy and vibrant, and that all starts with having an open government.
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information about the League, visit the website: www.lwvmontcoin.org or send a message to LWV, P.O. Box 101, Crawfordsville, IN 47933.