The House unanimously passed a bill that would bring much-needed improvements to the Freedom of Information Act; the Senate had bi-partisan support for it, too -- but outgoing Sen Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) singlehandedly killed the bill in a closed-door committee meeting.
He offered vague, bullshitty excuses for this, citing nonspecific issues with privacy that don't bear even cursory scrutiny.
For 509 other members of Congress, these concerns were not enough to halt progress of much-needed reforms. It’s not clear which provisions the Senator is referring to, or what experts across the federal government he is referring to, because this short statement, issued at 6:30 PM on Friday after a full day of advocates, journalists and citizens asking for an explanation, doesn’t explain.
Currently, these same federal agencies are failing to comply with FOIA requests, overusing exemptions and delaying responses for years. Vague concerns about delaying investigations or harming enforcement of financial fraud, perhaps referring to actions by federal attorneys at the Federal Trade Commission or Securities and Exchange Commission, don’t hold water when balanced against the documented resistance to the public’s right to know what’s being done in their name. Raising these issues at this point in the legislative calendar very well may scuttle the bill, which would still need to go back to the House and then to the White House. If that’s the outcome, Senator Rockefeller’s “long record of support for open government and the FOIA process” will be forever cast into shadow.
Since news of Senator Rockefeller’s hold on the bill first broke, dozens of people on Twitter and Facebook have been asking @SenRockefeller to release the hold. Tweets are almost certainly not going to be enough. If this is an issue that concerns you or (if you’re in the media, your listeners, readers or viewers), Senator Rockefeller’s office is in at 531 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510. The office number is (202) 224-6472, the fax is (202) 224-7665, and the email is firstname.lastname@example.org. (Unfortunately, the DC phone is currently going to voicemail and there’s no guarantee that your email will be read. You can also call the senator’s satellite offices in Beckley, WV (304-253-9704), Charleston (304-347-5372), Fairmont (304-367-0122), or Martinsburg (304 262-9285). You can also contact your own U.S. Senators and ask them about the hold.)
(Image: 4/9/13 Rockefeller Introduced Sylvia M. Burwell 3, John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, CC-BY)