Fix FOIA by 50 Clearinghouse

 


Status

U.S. House: H.R. 653 passed, January 11, 2016

U.S. Senate: S. 337 passed, March 15, 2016

June 13, 2016 — House passes S. 337

June 30, 2016 — President Obama signs S. 337 into law.


 

Highlights– What FOIA Reform legislation would do

Read the full SGI Talking Points here in a one-page Fact Sheet or two-page Fact Sheet.

In brief, the bill takes a number of steps to fix persistent problems that FOIA requesters face by improving the federal government’s handling of FOIA requests. Specifically, H.R. 653 and S. 337:

  • Strengthen the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) by clarifying the Office must speak with an independent voice. Currently OGIS must seek input from other agencies and the Office of Management and Budget before making its recommendations for improving FOIA available to the public. This limits what OGIS can say.
  • Ensure future administrations start from a presumption of openness. That means agencies may withhold information only if they reasonably foresee that disclosure would cause specific, identifiable harm from one of the nine types of interests already protected by FOIA (such as personal privacy, national security and trade secrets). Agencies have used this same standard since 2009.
  • Push agencies to modernize technology in responding to FOIA requests by creating a single FOIA portal to accept FOIA requests for any agency.
  • Require agencies to submit annual FOIA processing statistics a month earlier each year so they are available for Sunshine Week.
  • Limit the ability of agencies to keep internal deliberations confidential to a period of 25 years. Agencies would lose the ability to cite Exemption 5 (protecting internal deliberations) in denying requests if the information is more than 25 years old.

Congress should move past any remaining concerns and enact these popular, bipartisan steps that together constitute the most significant improvement to FOIA in eight years.

 

Analyses and Commentary: Why Congress should strengthen FOIA

In its present state, the Freedom of Information Act is not simply broken, it’s also counterproductive. The legislation introduced by Grassley deserves the support of all members of Congress, as well as the White House. — Des Moines Register, January 12, 2016)

Voices of Experience: What requesters are saying about FOIA 

Why did the files take so long to release? Various FOIA officers over the years blamed the delay on the agency’s backlog and on the volume of the records that had to be reviewed. It turned out to be 87 pages.

— Michael Grabell, “TSA Reveals Passenger Complaints … Four Years Later,” ProPublica, May 4, 2012

 

In 2008, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of State and spent six years fighting to get a list never before released to the public showing hundreds of diplomats pulled over for our most serious driving offenses…. But our records aren’t complete. Some were withheld for “national security” reasons.

— Tisha Thompson, “Diplomatic Drivers: Hundreds Pulled Over for Serious Offenses,” NBC 4 Washington, November 21, 2014

 

 The law [making certain car-accident data public] ‘was intended to prevent needless deaths and injuries . . . by giving regulators and the public quick access to information manufacturers have about crashes involving their products,’ said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. ‘Public availability of information under FOIA is critical to achieving that goal.’

— Ken Bensinger, “Accident Data to be Released,” Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2008

 

Primary Documents

 

FOIA Improvement Act (S. 337)

FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2015 (H.R. 653)

  • Bill text (as introduced in the House on February 2)
  • Congressional Budget Office cost estimate for H.R. 653
  • Sponsor: Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)

 

Co-Sponsors of H.R. 653

 

53 Total (25 Democrats, 28 Republicans) — as of August 1, 2015 (Source: CQ-RollCall.com)
Alabama
Byrne (R-Ala.)Arizona
Franks, T. (R-Ariz.)
Gosar (R-Ariz.)California
Brownley (D-Calif.)
DeSaulnier (D-Calif.)
Honda (D-Calif.)
Lieu (D-Calif.)
Vargas (D-Calif.)Colorado
Polis (D-Colo.)
Tipton (R-Colo.)District of Columbia
Norton (D-D.C.)Florida
Posey (R-Fla.)
Ross, D. (R-Fla.)
Yoho (R-Fla.)Georgia
Allen (R-Ga.)
Carter, E.L. (R-Ga.)
Collins, D. (R-Ga.)
Hice (R-Ga.)
Johnson, H. (D-Ga.)
Lewis, John (D-Ga.)Hawaii
Gabbard (D-Hawaii)
Illinois
Duckworth (D-Ill.)
Foster (D-Ill.)
Lipinski, D. (D-Ill.)
Quigley (D-Ill.)Indiana
Bucshon (R-Ind.)
Messer (R-Ind.)
Stutzman (R-Ind.)Maryland
Cummings (D-Md.)Massachusetts
McGovern (D-Mass.)Michigan
Bishop, M. (R-Mich.)
Lawrence (D-Mich.)
Walberg (R-Mich.)Minnesota
Emmer (R-Minn.)Mississippi
Palazzo (R-Miss.)Nebraska
Ashford (D-Neb.)Nevada
Amodei (R-Nev.)New Hampshire
Guinta (R-N.H.)
Kuster (D-N.H.)
New Jersey
Payne, D.M. (D-N.J.)New York
Rangel (D-N.Y.)Pennsylvania
Cartwright (D-Pa.)Puerto Rico
Pierluisi (D-P.R.)Tennessee
DesJarlais (R-Tenn.)Texas
Farenthold (R-Texas)
Hensarling (R-Texas)
McCaul (R-Texas)
Olson (R-Texas)
Sessions, P. (R-Texas)Vermont
Welch (D-Vt.)Virginia
Connolly (D-Va.)
Hurt (R-Va.)Wisconsin
Ribble (R-Wisc.)