Access to Government Information In the United States: A Primer [January 16, 2013] [open pdf - 246KB]
"No provision in the U.S. Constitution expressly establishes a procedure for public access to government records or meetings. Congress, however, has legislated various public access laws. Among these laws are two records access statutes, 1. the Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act or FOIA; 5 U.S.C. §552), and 2. the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. §552a), and two meetings access statutes, 1. the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA; 5 U.S.C. App.), and 2. the Government in the Sunshine Act (5 U.S.C. §552b). These four laws provide the foundation for access to executive branch information in the American federal government. The records-access statutes provide the public with a variety of methods to examine how executive branch departments and agencies execute their missions. The meeting-access statutes provide the public the opportunity to inform the policy process. These four laws are also among the most used and most litigated federal access laws. […] This report offers an introduction to the four access laws and provides citations to additional resources related to these statutes. This report includes statistics on the use of FOIA and FACA and on litigation related to FOIA. The 113th Congress may have an interest in overseeing the implementation of these laws or may consider amending the laws. In addition, this report provides some examples of the methods Congress, the President, and the courts have employed to provide or require the provision of information to one another. This report is a primer on information access in the U.S. federal government and provides a list of resources related to transparency, secrecy, access, and nondisclosure."
CRS Report for Congress, 97-71