Support Mounts for FOIA Upgrade Bill in Senate

July 30, 2014

Pressure to bring a bipartisan power-boost bill for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Senate floor mounted June 26, 2014, when a coalition of some 50 groups urged action.

Introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), the bill (S 2520) has been dubbed the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014. The two have collaborated on similar bills enacted in the past decade — a sign that strengthening FOIA is one of the few things a deadlocked Congress may be able to accomplish in this election year.

A key provision of the bill would narrow the scope of exemption 5, which supposedly applies to inter-agency memos that would be privileged in civil litigation. This exemption has evolved in practice into a broad exemption for "pre-decisional" documents, which has come in some cases to shield from disclosure almost anything not published in official and final form. The bill's language would require agencies to balance the exemption against the public interest in disclosure.

Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel with jurisdiction over the bill, has not yet scheduled a hearing on it.