New FOIA Bill Would Speed Federal Response, Ease Tracking

March 13, 2013

A bipartisan House bill was released March 12, 2013, marking Sunshine Week with proposed steps forward in implementing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The bill, sponsored by Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD), chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, respectively, was put out in draft form for discussion and has yet to be formally introduced.

It addresses problems with FOIA, the mainstay of open government at the federal level, which after 46 years remains slow and often unrewarding for those seeking public records.

Prospects for passage remain unclear. While the bill's bipartisan origin augurs well, its draft status and the lack of a Senate counterpart make it too early to gauge its chances.

As summarized by the House committee, the bill would:

- Enact into law the Obama administration's current presumption in favor of disclosure
- Require agencies to publish online records requested more than twice and to post more information proactively
- Establish a single online portal, such as FOIAonline, for the public to submit and track FOIA requests to multiple agencies
- Strengthen and improve the independence of the FOIA "ombudsman," the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)
- Strengthen oversight and review, by OGIS and agency Chief FOIA officers, of agency compliance and performance
- Strengthen the FOIA dispute resolution process
- Legislatively mandate agency updates of their FOIA regulations. (Although the Justice Department has called for such updates, many agencies have not yet complied.)
- Establish a Council consisting of the agencies' Chief FOIA Officers, to be run jointly by OGIS and the Justice Department Office of Information Policy.


 

This is one of the stories in the March 13, 2013 issue of SEJ's biweekly WatchDog. Find the rest of the stories and past issues here.