Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Senate approves Freedom of Information Act amendments to improve government transparency

President Obama said he would "sign a Freedom of Information Act reform bill the Senate passed Tuesday, if it reaches his desk in that form, a White House spokesperson said," Josh Gerstein reports for Politico. The measure, which cleared the Senate unanimously Tuesday—and is similar, but not identical, to a FOIA bill that passed the House in January—"calls for a centralized portal to request records from all government agencies and writes into the law a presumption of openness that the Obama administration adopted by executive order when he took office in 2009. . . . The bill was watered down somewhat before it passed."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said on the Senate floor just before the bill passed by unanimous consent, "A continued culture of government secrecy has served to undermine FOIA's fundamental promise. Problems with FOIA have persisted under both Republican and Democrat presidents, but under President Obama things have only worsened, and his commitment to a new era of openness has proven illusory at best . . . More and more agencies are simply finding ways to avoid their duties under FOIA altogether."

The decision comes in the middle of Sunshine Week, an annual event to celebrate open government and freedom of the press. The Sunshine Week site provides plenty of tools, including opinion columns, editorial cartoons, Sunshine Week logos and icons, a sample proclamation for state and local governments, the Schools and Colleges page for students and educators and a series of open government questions to ask candidates running for federal positions. Sunshine Week runs through Saturday.

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