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Happy Birthday, FOIA!

As we head into the July 4th weekend, it is a great time to think about the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. But July 4 th is more than a day that we celebrate our country’s birth – this year, it is also FOIA’s 45th birthday!

 

On July 4, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act into law. According to historians, President Johnson did so quietly and grudgingly. The story leading up to the signing is worth looking at; it features an interesting cast of characters including then-White House aide Bill Moyers, then-Congressman Donald Rumsfeld and FOIA hero Congressman John Moss.

Though President Johnson may have downplayed the signing ceremony and expressed his doubts about the necessity of FOIA, we have since seen FOIA grow into an invaluable tool that is used every day to learn about the business of the American government. Executive branch agencies received nearly 600,000 FOIA requests in 2010, according to the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy (OIP).  What was initially thought of by some as an unnecessary and possibly harmful law has clearly become an essential one.

At 45, it might seem that FOIA would be well past its adolescence; however, the law continues to experience plenty of growing pains. One issue discussed among requesters and agencies is that of referrals and consultations. On Thursday July 14, 2011, OIP and OGIS will host a roundtable discussion to explore this topic further. These lively discussions provide a rare opportunity for the requester community to speak directly to the Federal FOIA policy office and the Federal FOIA ombuds office. We hope to see you there.

So however you plan to spend your July 4 th weekend, we hope that you will take stock in knowing that access to information is one of the foundations of our democracy. Happy Birthday, FOIA!