Can House, Senate, Meld FOIA Bills In Politicized Election Year?

April 27, 2016

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reform legislation passed both House and Senate by huge, bipartisan margins in this 114th Congress. But it will die unless the two chambers reconcile their different versions and send it to President Obama. And with only a few months of real work remaining in this politically volatile election year, it is not a sure thing that Congress will clear the legislation.

Even worse, it is not clear that President Obama, who once claimed he would run the most open administration in history, will sign a bill if he gets it.

Documents discovered under a Freedom of Information Act request by journalist Trevor Timm show that covert opposition from the Obama administration played a major role in killing similar legislation during the 113th Congress.

A coalition of 47 open-government groups wrote Obama on March 16, 2016, urging him to declare support for the legislation (preferably the Senate version). Obama has yet to take a position.

A formal conference to resolve House-Senate differences on the two bills has not yet been organized — although sometimes these negotiations are informal. If the House simply adopts the Senate-passed bill, no conference would be necessary.

Since the WatchDog's last update on this year's FOIA legislation, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has compiled a side-by-side analysis comparing the two bills, S 337 and HR 653.

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