Thank you, Melanie, for that introduction—and for your tireless work on behalf of the Department of Justice. Welcome, everyone, to the Department’s 2018 Sunshine Week Kick-Off Event. Sunshine Week serves as an opportunity for us to recognize the importance of transparency in government and the many contributions of civil servants dedicated to that goal.
The need for transparency in government flows from the very structure of our representative democracy. As James Madison put it in 1822: “A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy…. A people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
With respect to the federal government, the Freedom of Information Act is one significant way in which the people can arm themselves with knowledge. Since FOIA became effective in 1967, the public has increasingly relied upon the law to gain access to information about the government. Those who utilize FOIA run the gamut from traditional news media, to newer online-only media outlets, to advocacy organizations, to individual citizens. We have seen government officials and programs held accountable based on records sought by ordinary citizens. This past year alone, there were a record high number of FOIA requests—over 800,000—and the government also provided a record high number of responses.
Part of Sunshine Week is about thanking the devoted professional across agencies who perform the endless, sometimes painstaking work of processing FOIA requests. Your burdens are weightier than ever, but your professionalism endures. Please know that we appreciate you and the work you do in helping secure liberty through accountable government. We will later recognize the outstanding work of some of our colleagues, and we hope their work will serve as an inspiration to all who hold positions of public trust.
Here at the Department of Justice, we take seriously our responsibility to encourage government-wide compliance with FOIA. We must continually review our policies and practices to ensure that records are released lawfully and efficiently. To this end, we are excited to share some of the Department’s recent work with you today, including the development of the National FOIA Portal.
The Department began working on the Portal, with strong support from the Office of Management and Budget, almost immediately after the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 was signed into law. Our Office of Information policy worked with experts in our OCIO and the 18F team at GSA to develop the Portal. It will serve as a valuable resource that will assist the public in making information requests. But it will also help to focus requests and streamline the process. Throughout the process of development, the Portal team engaged with many of you and the public at large. We want thank all those who helped us with this project. We are excited to continue to build on it in the coming years.
We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure that our administration of FOIA continues to improve and that our government is held to the highest standards. Thank you and have a very bright Sunshine Week.