FOIA reform

Chief FOIA Officers Council meets for the first time

Luis Ferre Sadurni | Freedom of Information | News | July 25, 2016
News
July 25, 2016

The Chief FOIA Officers Council, charged with addressing the most important difficulties in administering FOIA across government, met for the first time July 22 to begin the process of implementing a “release to one is a release to all” standard for federal records.

The policy would make agencies release FOIA-processed records to one requester and simultaneously to the general public by posting them online.

Concerns about the policy from both journalists and FOIA officers were addressed at the meeting. Many reporters worry that releasing requested documents to the public would compromise their reporting by allowing others to steal their “scoop.” Agency FOIA officers were troubled by the burden of ensuring records are accessible to all and in compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Senate committee considers what's next for FOIA

Sophie Murguia | Freedom of Information | News | July 13, 2016
News
July 13, 2016

A week after the Freedom of Information Act’s 50th anniversary, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing that addressed next steps for improving and enforcing the law.

The July 12 hearing also celebrated the passage of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which President Barack Obama signed into law on June 30.

The four witnesses at the hearing praised the law’s accomplishments, which include creating a “presumption of openness” toward disclosing records, as well as requiring the government to create a single online portal for FOIA requests. The law also ensures greater independence for the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), the FOIA ombudsman.

President Obama Signs FOIA Reform Bill into Law on 50th Anniversary

Luis Ferre Sadurni | Freedom of Information | News | June 30, 2016
News
June 30, 2016

President Barack Obama today signed a bill that significantly reforms and improves access to public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The signing marked the culmination of open government advocates' battle to reform part of FOIA ahead of the law's 50th anniversary on July 4th.

One of the most notable provisions is the law's mandate for agencies to operate from a presumption of openness, ensuring that information is withheld only under one of FOIA's nine exemptions. The bill codifies Obama's 2009 memorandum sent on his first day in office — which ordered federal departments to operate under this presumption.

Federal agencies announce limited trial of "release for one, release to all" FOIA policy

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | News | July 9, 2015
News
July 9, 2015

With little public fanfare, seven federal agencies have announced a controversial trial program of publishing documents responsive to most Freedom of Information Act requests online.

Under the program, known as a “Release-to-One is Release-to-All” policy, any member of the public will presumably have access to the result of almost any FOIA request.

Few other details were released in a brief announcement posted on several agency websites. It remains to be seen whether there will be a delay between sending responsive documents to the requester and posting them for the general public, or whether requesters will simply be sent a link to a public website that already hosts the documents.

Hearing examines FOIA reform, and whether the act is an effective tool

Kelly Swanson | Freedom of Information | News | June 5, 2015
News
June 5, 2015

The question of whether the federal Freedom of Information Act is an effective tool was hotly debated at a two-day hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week. Requesters answered emphatically that the FOIA process is broken, but agency employees disagreed.

FOIA requesters including reporters and watchdog groups testified before the committee on Tuesday, addressing the FOIA barriers they’ve encountered, including backlogs, request delays, excessive redactions, and unreasonable fees.

FOIA reform bill dies after House fails to schedule vote

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | December 12, 2014
Commentary
December 12, 2014

A bipartisan FOIA reform bill failed to be put to a vote in the House on Thursday after it was unanimously approved by the Senate. The inaction spelled death for the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, as House members are scheduled to leave town today and have not scheduled a vote on the measure.

One of the more frustrating aspects of the incident is that the House unanimously passed an even broader FOIA reform bill in February, leaving open government advocates wondering about the reasons for the House’s inaction.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who co-sponsored the Senate bill along with John Cornyn, R-Texas, blamed House Speaker John Boehner, tweeting on Thursday night, “And Boehner kills #FOIA improvements.”

FOIA Improvement Act unanimously passes Senate, heads to House

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | December 9, 2014
Commentary
December 9, 2014

After a last minute hold was released, the Senate unanimously passed the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 yesterday. The Act, which strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), will now head to the House for its approval.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) lifted his hold on the bill late in the day on Monday, allowing the bill to proceed. When asked about the reasons for his delay, the Senator rather mysteriously said, “it’s sort of the internal workings of the Senate.” Lifting the hold allowed Sen. Leahy to go to the floor and secure the unanimous consent of the Senate.

Important FOIA reform bill passes Senate Judiciary Committee, but is being held up by one senator

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | December 4, 2014
Commentary
December 4, 2014

Update: as of the end of the day on Dec. 4, Senator Coburn has reportedly lifted his hold on the bill, although it is now being reported that Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) is holding it up.

The Senate is poised to take action on the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, which would make great improvements to the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the bill is inexplicably being held up by a single senator.

Media coalition files comments on restrictive Department of Defense FOIA regulations

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | November 6, 2014
Commentary
November 6, 2014

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by a national coalition of media organizations, has filed comments on proposed Department of Defense (DoD) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations. As the comments note, the press routinely relies on FOIA to gain access to government records in order to inform the public on the workings of the government and its elected officials. Ensuring agencies implement FOIA in a manner that is faithful to the spirit of the law and President Obama’s stated commitment to transparency is imperative in order for the press to perform its important role in our democracy.

Reporters Committee Joins Open Government Coalition Urging President Obama to Clarify Administration's Position on FOIA Reform

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | News | October 24, 2014
News
October 24, 2014

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has joined a letter sent by 50 transparency and open government organizations to President Obama asking for his position on legislative reform to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Citing the President’s day-one commitment to transparency, the letter points out that there remain “many challenges in fulfilling” that goal. “FOIA remains one of the most effective tools for the public to know what its government is up to,” the letter states, but “changing agency practices under that statute to meet your transparency goals has been especially challenging.”

Accordingly, the letter identifies six core components of FOIA reform that must be legislatively mandated to ensure realization of the President’s stated open government goals: