FOIA Improvement Bill Awaits Signature on Obama's Desk

June 22, 2016

FOIA reform: it's all over but the shouting — and the implementation. Congress cleared a Freedom-of-Information-Act upgrade bill June 13, 2016, sending it to President Obama for his expected signature.

The House passed the Senate-passed version of the bill (S 337) by voice vote under a fast-track procedure known as suspension of the rules. No recorded vote was taken. An earlier version of the bill had already passed the House in an uncontested voice vote.

Politico reported March 15 that a "White House spokesperson" had said the President would sign the bill as passed by the Senate (and later by the House). The President has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign a bill. That would make a signature likely well before July 4, the 50th anniversary of the original FOIA enactment.

The package of amendments to FOIA features codification of the "presumption of openness," a standard which has varied from administration to administration. For example, a 2001 memo issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft at the start of the Bush administration promised to defend federal agency denials of FOIA requests. The Obama administration reversed that policy and directed a presumption of openness in 2009. But by writing the presumption of openness into law, the new bill would deprive future administrations of the option of changing that policy.

The bill also would establish a single online federal portal for FOIA requests and strengthen the role of the Office of Government Information Services, known as the FOIA ombud.

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