The coming lame-duck session is the last opportunity for Congress to enact a bipartisan bill that would make modest improvements in the Freedom of Information Act. Will transparency trump gridlock when Congress returns after the November 4, 2014, midterm elections? That remains to be seen.
The legislation has taken different forms in the House (HR 1211) and Senate (S 2520). The House Bill, sponsored by Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), was actually passed by the House on February 25, 2014. The Senate bill, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), is still in committee.
The Senate bill would mandate disclosure of records in electronic format, limit fees when agencies miss deadlines, set a presumption in favor of disclosure, expand compliance authority of agency chief FOIA officers, and establish a chief FOIA Officers Council.
The House bill would — additionally — establish a government-wide website for FOIA requests, expand the authority of the so-called "FOIA Ombud" office to resolve disputes, expand appeal rights for denied requesters, and require agencies to update their FOIA regulations.