By John Cornyn
Scripps Howard News Service
March 14, 2005
The Declaration of Independence makes clear that our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness may be secured only where "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." And James Madison, the father of our Constitution, famously wrote that consent of the governed means informed consent - that "a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
Our founders thus firmly believed that a free society cannot exist without an informed citizenry and an open and accessible government. That is why the cause of open government has been a top priority throughout my time in public service. As attorney general of Texas, I was charged with the important responsibility of enforcing and maintaining openness in Texas government. Open-government advocates have long recognized that Texas's open-government laws are stronger and more robust than federal open-government laws.
Just last month, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a longtime champion of open government at the federal level, and I joined forces to introduce the OPEN Government Act of 2005 to strengthen and enhance our federal open-government laws. It has been nearly a decade since Congress has approved major reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). And the Senate Judiciary Committee has not convened an oversight hearing to monitor compliance with FOIA since 1992. So this week, I will chair a Senate hearing to examine needed improvements to our open-government laws.
The legislation we introduced contains important congressional findings to reiterate and reinforce our belief that the Freedom of Information Act establishes a presumption of openness, and that our government is based not on the need to know, but upon the fundamental right to know. In addition, the bill contains more than a dozen substantive provisions, designed to 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 and provide FOIA officials with all of the tools they need to ensure that our government remains open and accessible.
Moreover, our legislation is not just pro-openness, pro-accountability and pro-accessibility - it is also pro-Internet. It requires government agencies to establish a hotline to enable citizens to track their FOIA requests, including Internet tracking, and grants the same privileged FOIA fee status currently enjoyed by traditional media outlets to bloggers and others who publish reports on the Internet.
The OPEN Government Act is the culmination of months of extensive discussions involving my office, Leahy's office and various members of the requestor community. After all, open government is not a Republican or a Democratic issue; it is an American issue. Indeed, the bill is supported by a broad coalition of open-government advocates and organizations across the ideological spectrum as well as by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Open government is a fundamental principle of our democracy. As President Lincoln once said, "no man is good enough to govern another without that person's consent" - and of course, consent is meaningless if it is not informed consent. For that very reason, the cause of open government is as American as our commitment to constitutional democracy.