Once on a glide path to passage through the Senate, the FOIA Improvement Act is in trouble after retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., came out against the bill designed to make government more transparent.
“I have a long record of support for open government and the [Freedom of Information Act] process," Rockefeller said in a release. "I am concerned that provisions in this bill will have the unintended consequence of harming our ability to enforce the many important federal laws that protect American consumers from financial fraud and other abuses." Rockefeller argues the provisions "would make it harder for federal agency attorneys to prepare their cases, and they would potentially give defendants new ways to obstruct and delay investigations into their conduct. I hope there is a way to address these concerns and pass the bill.”
The objection came as a surprise to bill sponsor Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
"Yesterday was the first we have heard of these concerns," a Leahy aide said. "The FOIA Improvement Act, which was introduced in June, was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee on November 20. It has the support of more than 70 government transparency groups and is the result of months of consultation with the administration and a wide range of stakeholders."
The measure appeared to be on track to be passed expeditiously by the Senate. But if Rockefeller's objection isn't addressed the measure may have to wait until the next Congress, since the lion's share of floor time is expected to be consumed by appropriations, tax and defense bills.
The Sunlight Foundation, an open government advocacy group, which supports the bill, was also puzzled. The group urged voters to call Rockefeller's office to allow the bill to pass "before it's too late — and FOIA reform becomes just another missed opportunity," the group said on its website.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this article. The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.