This Independence Day marks 47 years since the landmark Freedom of Information Act was signed into federal law, yet Americans are still distrustful of government. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll showed that only 26 percent of Americans surveyed say they can trust government in Washington "almost always or most of the time" — among the lowest ratings in the half-century since pollsters have been asking the question.
FOIA established our right to access government records and to know what our government is doing — both its successes and failures. Exercising our right to know gives us — the public — power. It allows us to contribute to our government and hold government accountable. From food and transportation safety to the use and disposal of chemicals, FOIA has enabled the public to ensure the health of our democracy and our own well-being.
FOIA (and related state and local laws) are only as good as we demand that they be. For decades, members of the League of Women Voters have acted as government watchdogs at the federal, state and local levels — observing government meetings, conducting document audits and empowering citizens, but more work needs to be done.
The key to a healthy, open and trusted government is public participation. This FOIA anniversary, exercise your right to know by attending a local government meeting, contacting an elected official, or visiting a state or local government website.
— Karen Oelschlaeger
League of Women Voters