House approves legislation ahead of 50th Anniversary of landmark Open Government Law
Washington, D.C. – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation, S. 337, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which includes provisions of a companion bill introduced in the House by former Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), and current Ranking Member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 makes important changes to the existing Freedom of Information Act passed 50 years ago.
Ranking Member Cummings: “We have been working on this bill in a bipartisan way for years, and I am pleased that Congress is finally passing this legislation to update and improve FOIA ahead of the 50th anniversary of this landmark open government legislation. This bill will put into law a presumption of transparency and make it easier for the public to access information from the federal government.”
Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT): “Passing bipartisan FOIA legislation is a major milestone and big step forward in fixing a broken process. This bill will help make government more transparent and accountable to the public.”
Rep. Darrell Issa: “The legislation passed today makes it clear that the American people have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing. The Freedom of Information Act was supposed to make government more open, but in recent years, it has become ripe with abuse as administrators have made a habit of slow-walking, delaying, or outright denying requests for information that should have been made public to begin with. The bill effectively cripples the ability of federal bureaucrats and power hungry government officials to keep information from the American people. I’ve lead the fight for three years now to improve the broken FOIA process, and today, I’m glad to see these efforts become a reality.”
The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 is widely supported by dozens of open government groups, including The Sunshine in Government Initiative and a coalition of media associations that promotes ways to improve FOIA. The bill now heads to the President’s desk where it is expected to be signed into law.
Important Bill Provisions:
- Codifies a statutory presumption of openness, which places the burden on agencies to justify withholding information, instead of on the requester to justify release.
- Strengthens proactive disclosure, which would continue to make transparency and disclosure of information a part of everyday business. Disclosure should be timely, accurate, and routine.
- Directs the Office of Management and Budget to establish a single access website to allow users to submit their requests and review the status instead of submitting requests to agencies individually.
- Strengthens the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), which functions as the FOIA Ombudsman, giving more independence and responsibility to a non-partisan, non-political office to oversee FOIA compliance.
- Requires agencies to update their regulations. 50 percent of agencies have not updated their regulations to reflect the President and Attorney General Holder’s FOIA memos. Up-to-date regulations are essential to ensuring agencies are complying with FOIA.
In June 2015, the Oversight Committee conducted two days of hearings during which the public heard firsthand accounts of ineffective and inefficient FOIA responses as well as agency best practices. On January 11, 2016, the House passed Reps. Issa and Cummings’ FOIA legislation. In March 2016, S. 337 passed the Senate with a unanimous and bipartisan vote.