ACTION ALERT: Support the Freedom of Information Improvement Act!

Action Needed:

By December 1, 2014, urge your U.S. Senators to support the Leahy-Cornyn FOIA Improvement Act (S. 2520) and to bring it to a vote during this session of Congress.


The Issue:

Although the current federal FOIA law has improved citizen access to government records and overall government transparency, it still suffers from some significant flaws.  The proposed legislation would enhance transparency and access by requiring that federal agencies adopt a “Presumption of Openness” when considering the release of government information under FOIA, and it aims to reduce the overuse of exemptions to withhold information from the public.

As noted in its Advocacy Agenda, one of SAA’s key objectives is to make transparent and hold accountable government organizations at all levels. Improving the FOIA law as proposed would significantly advance that agenda.*


Here’s How You Can Help:

By Monday, December 1, contact your Senators’ offices – by phone, fax, or email – to ask them to both support this bill and bring it to a vote in the current session of Congress.

For information about how to contact your Senators, see:

Keep your message simple:

  • Tell your Senators that you support this bill and want to see it voted on in this session of Congress.
  • Identify yourself as a constituent and a professional archivist who is concerned with information access. 


Then let us know – at – that you’ve contacted your Senators (by name and state) and whether you get a response.



Take part in SAA’s “Year of Living Dangerously for Archives” by

advocating for this issue of importance to archives!



* SAA’s Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy has provided the following background for your use in understanding the issues around improving the Freedom of Information Act.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on November 20 unanimously approved the proposed Freedom of Information Improvement Act, authored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).  The bill would modify the existing Freedom of Information Act in ways that are consistent with SAA’s position on FOIA, as adopted by the Council in May 2014.

SAA encourages the full Senate to act quickly on this legislation.

Specifically the bill would require federal agencies to adopt a “presumption of openness” when considering the release of government information, codifying into law the Obama Administration’s guidance to agencies that they should have a presumption of openness when determining whether to release information under a FOIA request. 

  • This codification would directly affect changes to agencies’ use of FOIA’s exemptions such as Exemption 5 (also called the b[5] exemption), which has been referred to as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption by some requestors. The current language of the law’s b(5) exemption allows agencies to indefinitely withhold memos or letters shared within an agency or between agencies if it would be considered privileged under litigation standards.
  • The FOIA Improvement Act puts in place a 25-year sunset on the use of the b(5) exemption. The sunset helps ensure that agencies cannot abuse b(5) to withhold historical records.

If enacted into law the bill would also:

  • Make more information available to the public by encouraging agencies to post records that have been released under FOIA in easy-to-use electronic formats, and clarify when frequently requested documents must automatically be posted publicly.
  • List the instances in which fees may not be charged to requestors because of agencies’ missed deadlines in responding to requests.
  • Ensure the increased effectiveness of FOIA by giving greater independence to the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).
  • Require notification to requestors regarding the availability of alternative dispute resolution options.

For more information on SAA’s Advocacy Agenda, including our position on FOIA, see