Sunshine Week coincides with and commemorates the anniversary of James Madison’s birthday, who is considered the father of open government. As Madison rightly believed, knowledge is the key to self-government. |Mr. Chairman, I also wanted to say a few words about Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week coincides with and commemorates the anniversary of James Madison’s birthday, who is considered the father of open government. As Madison rightly believed, knowledge is the key to self-government. Therefore, our laws, which seek to preserve the freedom of knowledge and transparency in our system of government, are in honor of his championing vision.
Making our government more transparent, accessible, efficient and accountable only strengthens our system of self-government. Transparency breeds accountability. And our federal government could use a lot more of both.
Mr. Chairman, throughout our tenure in the Senate, we have both made a point to bring more sunshine into the federal government.
The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, on this week’s agenda, is a bipartisan bill that we both believe in. We won’t be debating it today, but I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about it during Sunshine Week. The Judiciary Committee has marked-up this legislation a number of times and has passed it with bi-partisan support. The bill goes to the heart of an open, transparent government and is based upon the core beliefs of our Constitution’s Founding Fathers.
Allowing cameras in federal courtrooms is consistent with the Founders intent that trials be held in front of as many people as choose to attend. The First Amendment supports the notion that court proceedings be open to the public and, by extension, the news media and broadcast coverage. Openness is the heart of our government, and by providing sunshine into the courtroom, we open up the courts the same way CSPAN opened the Congress to the public.
Our bill will help the public become better informed about the federal judiciary and the judicial process. The bill will increase public scrutiny of our federal judiciary and bring greater accountability to a system that includes Judges with lifetime tenure.
I also want to say a few words about the oversight hearing we held this past Tuesday on the Freedom of Information Act.
Two years ago, on his first full day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act and declared that his administration would usher in a new era of open government.
Yet, last year, experts gave the Obama administration a grade of “C” or lower on its Freedom of Information Act performance during its first year.
Our oversight hearing gave us an opportunity to review the administration’s performance during its second year. I’m sorry to report that contrary to the President’s hopeful pronouncements when he took office, the sun still isn’t shining in Washington DC.
It’s not just a matter of disappointment in poor performance. And it’s not even bureaucratic business as usual. It’s more, and it’s far worse.
The Associated Press uncovered that for nearly a year, President Obama’s political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security screened Freedom of Information Act requests and delayed responses. There is also a recent article by a former Justice Department attorney on the political screening of information requests at the Justice Department.
It appears that as part of the process at Homeland Security, career employees were required to analyze information requests under a political criteria. They were then to pass the results of the analysis onto Secretary Napolitano’s political staff.
The reports of a politicized compliance with the Freedom of Information Act reveal that there is a disturbing disconnect between President Obama’s words and the actions of his political appointees.
Open government is not a Republican or a Democrat issue. It has to be a bipartisan issue. We all know that.
I was troubled by the testimony from our hearing. In particular, I was struck by the contradiction between the testimony of the outside witnesses and the testimony of the witnesses from the administration.
The Associated Press report came out seven months ago and was based on Homeland Security emails. Either the emails say what they say, or they don’t. I would’ve hoped that the administration would’ve determined this by now. But based on our hearing, I don’t know if the administration has even investigated what has been going on at Homeland Security.
So, I strongly believe we should be conducting significant and bipartisan oversight.
With a $14 trillion debt, unsustainable entitlement programs, rising energy prices, and a tenuous economic recovery, it’s more important than ever to let the sun shine on our federal government and give confidence to the American people. It’s a year-long effort, not just a week’s effort around James Madison’s birthday.