FOIA improvement bill making headway

Apr 5, 2016

By Richard Karpel
NNA Public Policy

WASHINGTON—In a few months, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will celebrate its 50th birthday. Truth be told, President Lyndon Baines Johnson wasn’t thrilled about signing the landmark open-government bill into law on July 4, 1966. And President Obama probably isn’t feeling warm and fuzzy about the current effort in Congress to put more teeth into the legislation. Nevertheless, like LBJ, Obama will almost certainly sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Good news: Our latest effort to improve FOIA got a step closer to the President’s desk during Sunshine Week when the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015 unanimously passed the U.S. Senate.

Among other enhancements, the bill would codify the presumption that information should be disclosed when requested; limit the “internal deliberations” exemption to 25 years; require federal agencies to accept FOIA requests via email; establish a single-stop web portal for all requests; and provide the FOIA watchdog Office of Government Information Services with a greater degree of independence and authority.

The version of the bill that passed the Senate was a little different than the FOIA reform legislation that passed the House earlier this year. One of the legislative bodies must now be persuaded to accept the other’s bill, or the differences must be worked out in a conference committee and sent to the floor of both houses for another vote. This is the point in the legislative process where we’ve seen other FOIA reform efforts come to naught, so NNA and its allies in the Sunshine in Government Initiative still have some work to do to get this latest effort to the finish line.