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FOIA News: Congress to consider FOIA reforms tomorrow

FOIA News (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

House to Weigh Overhaul of Open Records Process

Gardiner Harris, New York Times, Jan. 11, 2016

Fifty years after Congress passed a law opening most government records to public scrutiny, the House is expected Tuesday to take up the most important open records overhaul since 2007. Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats are expected to support the legislation.

Republicans in the House, frustrated by what they call the State Department’s incomplete and slow response to inquiries about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, have complained that the open records process “is broken” and that the Obama administration has ignored the law. Democrats, while defending the administration, agree that the records law needs strengthening.

The bill already has 54 co-sponsors, including 25 Democrats, making it one of the few pieces of truly bipartisan legislation expected to pass this Congress.

For thousands of journalists, historians and executives who file requests every year for government records only to see their requests ignored, delayed for years or refused altogether, the changes cannot come soon enough.

“The first thing that happened was that they lost my request,” said Victor Schonfeld, a London journalist who filed an information request with the State Department in 2013 for records from the department’s embassy in Berlin.

Mr. Schonfeld said that a month after receiving an email acknowledging that the department had received his request, he called to check on its status only to learn that it had been lost. He filed again. A year later, he received a document that was almost entirely blacked out.

“It was really frustrating,” Mr. Schonfeld said.

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