In one year on the Fourth of July in 2016, the federal FOIA will celebrate its 50th anniversary. We encourage House and Senate leadership to bring FOIA reform for a full vote in the House and Senate. FOIA reform legislation is bipartisan in both the House and Senate. The House bill, H.R. 653, was approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the bill in the Senate (S. 337) was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both committees have held hearings focused on FOIA’s problems. We pledge to work with House and Senate leadership and supporters to move the bills forward. In short, we have a single goal: Let’s fix FOIA by 50.
This 50th year for FOIA is the best chance in several years for Congress to improve the way FOIA works. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut.) held two days of hearings in June and heard an earful from media and other witnesses about ways the Freedom of Information Act does not live up to its promise of timely access to information held by the government. Chairman Chaffetz expressed a commitment to making concrete improvements to FOIA.
President Lyndon Johnson was famously ambivalent when he signed the original Freedom of Information Act into law on July 4, 1966. Since then, FOIA has helped bring important stories to light in all 50 states in the U.S. (See for yourself in our FOIA Files.) Veterans waiting for health care benefits. Possible health risks at playgrounds. Near collisions between drones and aircraft. All stories that relied in some way on FOIA.
Strengthening FOIA by enacting the FOIA reform is a win for bipartisanship. H.R. 653 was introduced by a Republican (Darrell Issa) and Democrat (Elijah Cummings). It has 50 sponsors or co-sponsors evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. A similar Senate bill (S. 337) was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and the leading Democrat on that committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy.
Sending FOIA reforms to the President’s desk for his signature is an easy win. Both the House and Senate bills have been approved in committee votes. Both bills have been the subject of hearings in both chambers. Remarkably, FOIA reform came very close to becoming law last year. And Chairman Chaffetz supports making the strongest possible changes to make FOIA work better.
We pledge to work with the bill sponsors to work through remaining concerns the bill’s impact.
For all these reasons, we hope the House and Senate leadership will take advantage of this opportunity to bring FOIA reform for a vote in the full House and Senate this year.