Historical Highlights

The Freedom of Information Act

November 20, 1974
The Freedom of Information Act Image, Congressional Pictorial Directory, 93rd Congress A World War II veteran, Representative William Moorhead of Pennsylvania served 11 terms in the House of Representatives.
On this date, the House overwhelmingly overrode President Gerald R. Ford’s veto of an expansion of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 371 to 31. Since its enactment in 1966, FOIA permitted public access to unclassified, executive branch documents, but the law proved cumbersome to employ and Executive agencies found several loopholes to deny access to documents. In 1973, Representative William Moorhead of Pennsylvania and Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts led the charge in Congress to expand and streamline FOIA. President Ford claimed the legislation, which included provisions for federal judicial review of some classified documents, endangered national security. Ford failed to convince a reform-minded Congress determined to promote government transparency in the wake of the Watergate scandal. In investigating the scandal, cassette tapes implicating President Richard M. Nixon in the Watergate cover-up proved difficult to obtain. On the House Floor, Representative Moorhead proclaimed, “‘Open government’ must not be sacrificed on the altar of bureaucratic secrecy. The hard lessons learned by the tragic Watergate experience must result in some positive achievement.” The Senate agreed with the House’s decision to override the veto the following day, committing the expansion to law.

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