FOIA reform unanimously passed by Senate faces final hurdle

Legislation to reform FOIA will offer greater government transparency and provide the public with greater and timely access to govt information.

Legislation to reform FOIA will offer greater government transparency and provide the public with greater and more timely access to government information.

It’s taken just over a year for the Senate to vote on S. 337, the FOIA Improvement Act, but its unanimous approval yesterday is a wonderful way to celebrate Sunshine Week 2016! ALA and many other advocates’ attention will now be focused on clearing the final hurdles to marking FOIA’s 50th anniversary (fittingly on July 4th) with a White House signing ceremony.

Before that can happen, however, Senate and House negotiators first must reconcile S. 337 with the House’s own version of FOIA reform, H.R. 653, passed unanimously in that chamber in January of this year. While similar, the bills are not identical in several substantive ways as this excellent Congressional Research Service history and side-by-side comparison details. With an extra-long summer recess to accommodate the major parties’ political conventions looming, and a legislative calendar further truncated by the 2016 elections themselves, time will be tight if Congress and the public are to avoid the sad situation we were left in at the end of the 113th Congress when time simply ran out to enact FOIA reform in 2014!

As just passed by the Senate, key provisions of the FOIA Improvement Act would: strengthen the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS); “require the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to ensure the operation of a consolidated online request portal that allows a member of the public to submit a request for records to any agency from a single website;” and codify the President’s “presumption of openness” policy instituted for all federal agencies at the very start of this Administration.

ALA sincerely thanks Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Judiciary Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) not only for introducing and supporting S. 337 in the current Congress, but for their longstanding commitment to meaningful FOIA reform over many years and multiple Congresses. With their continued leadership, ALA will continue to push with our allies for the House and Senate to quickly “conference” their two bills so that both chambers of Congress can vote again before time runs out to send broad FOIA reform to the President for the first time in many years.

Stay tuned for more on how you can help support that effort, and secure the President’s signature, soon.

About Jessica McGilvray

Jessica McGilvray is the Deputy Director of ALA Office of Government Relations (OGR).