Friday, July 01, 2016

Obama signs Freedom of Information Act reforms

President Obama on Thursday signed the FOIA Improvement Act in an attempt to improve "the government's often-sluggish responses to Freedom of Information Act requests," Josh Gerstein reports for Politico. The bill "codifies a presumption of disclosure that Obama re-instituted at the outset of his presidency, but which requesters say has done little to make recalcitrant agencies fork over information. That presumption is now in law and may give requesters a stronger hand in court, although it's unclear how much stronger since similar court-authored precedents are already on the books."

"The bill also makes it harder for government to withhold certain kinds of information that's more than 25 years old, although the impact of that provision was narrowed as the legislation pinged back and forth between the House and Senate," Gerstein writes. "Obama acknowledged Thursday that while battles continue over what should and shouldn't be released, federal agencies are struggling to keep up with the requests that are streaming in. The bill contains some measures designed to speed the process, but it also will make FOIA requests even easier to file, which could bog the system down more. Another challenge: the legislation, which emerged as a consensus measure after years of debate in Congress, does not contain any additional funding."

Luis Ferre Sadurni of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press writes, "The law also paves the way for the creation of a single online portal to accept FOIA requests for any agency, similar to FOIAonline, already in use by 12 agencies and offices. The Office of Government Information Services will also be strengthened with the reforms, permitting it to make recommendations for improving FOIA without necessarily seeking input from other agencies."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the reform bill, said in a statement: “The bill effectively cripples the ability of federal bureaucrats and power-hungry government officials to keep information from the American people." The 50th anniversary of the FOIA is July 4.

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