FOIA Reform Appears Close, But Not a Done Deal
By Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, Apr. 22, 2016
Bipartisan bills aimed at strengthening the openness requirements of the Freedom of Information Act are heading into House-Senate negotiations, but not without exposing some long-standing trepidation inside the Obama administration.
Though White House spokesman Josh Earnest has said the president would sign the Senate version of the bill passed last month, the measure the House passed in January has some stricter requirements that need to be negotiated. Nothing is guaranteed: In the past Congress, FOIA reform bills also cleared both chambers, but then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, declined a floor vote.
In addition, a coalition of 47 transparency advocacy nonprofits last month wrote a letter to the White House expressing displeasure with some Justice Department objections to the earlier bills, which only recently came to light under—of all things—a FOIA request.
The goal of the legislation is to require agencies to operate under a “presumption of openness” when considering the release of government information under FOIA and curb “overuse of exemptions to withhold information from the public,” according to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a longtime advocate. The bills would enhance the ability of the Office of Government Information Services—run out of the National Archives and Records Administration—to help mediate FOIA disputes.
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