FOIA Reform Bill Passes House, Major Win for Government Transparency
Bipartisan legislation that makes the largest changes to Freedom of Information Act since its inception 50 years ago passed the House and is expected to be signed by the president.
Passed by the Senate in March, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, S337 requires agencies to disclose all requested information unless there is a foreseeable harm or legal requirement to withhold such information.
According to the statement from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the measure “places the burden on agencies to justify withholding information, instead of on the requester to justify release.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said the legislation calls for the creation of an online portal by which citizens can submit FOIA requests and access frequently requested records.
Although the Obama administration has released several memos on FOIA, half of federal agencies have not updated their regulations to correspond with them, according to the release. This bill would also require those agencies to get up to speed.
Additionally, the measure would also curb the use of FOIA’s Exemption 5, a “deliberative process privilege," where agencies can exclude information leading up to decision-making, and instead require the disclosure of documents more than 25 years old and other internal deliberations not otherwise exempt from disclosure.
“The Freedom of Information Act was supposed to make government more open, but in recent years, it has become ripe with abuse… The bill effectively cripples the ability of federal bureaucrats and power hungry government officials to keep information from the American people,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, in a statement.
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