We need your help to ensure two new FOIA bills get passed
On Monday, Feb. 2, both the House and Senate introduced legislation to improve the federal FOIA. Because ASNE endorses these bills, we hope you will help us ensure they get passed by contacting your congressman and/or senator, editorializing in favor of the bills, and otherwise engaging both Congress and your readers to make sure these bills move quickly through Congress.
For the past year, we have been updating you on the progress of legislation to reform the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). ASNE was one of dozens of organizations who worked with House and Senate staff to craft bills, which actually passed their respective chambers of Congress. HR 1211 passed the House in February 2014 by a unanimous vote; S 2520 passed the Senate but not until December, which simply didn't leave enough time to get through the House, as well.
The good news is that we're back. On Monday, Feb. 2, both the House and Senate introduced legislation to improve the federal FOIA. The House version, introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), is H.R. 653. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced S.337. Because ASNE endorses these bills, we hope you will help us ensure they get passed by contacting your congressman and/or senator, editorializing in favor of the bills, and otherwise engaging both Congress and your readers to make sure these bills move quickly through Congress.
Both HR 653 and S 337 are very similar to the bill the Senate passed in 2014. Each would codify the "presumption of openness," inherent in FOIA and laid out by President Obama in a memorandum issued to heads of all agencies in 2009, that requires an agency to find a foreseeable harm before withholding information pursuant to a FOIA exemption. Both bills also provide necessary independence to the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), which is often referred to as the "FOIA Ombudsman."
Among the other major changes are limitations on the government's ability to invoke exemption 5, which relates to nonfinal documents, such as deliberative process documents and work product, and the creation of a centralized "FOIA Portal," which will make it easier to both request and receive documents from government agencies. Either bill would result in much-needed changes to FOIA and make it a more useful tool in your newsgathering arsenal.
What can you do? Anything that will help push this through Congress as rapidly as possible. That requires not only letting both your representatives and senators know that they should vote on this legislation, but also letting them know that they need to press committee chairs and leadership to schedule votes on these bills (The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has jurisdiction over HR 653; the Senate Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over S 337.). We are hearing that the Senate Judiciary Committee has put S 337 on its markup calendar for today (Feb. 5), though it is likely to be held over until Thursday, Feb. 12. We need to make sure they vote on this sooner rather than later. Our goal is to get these to the House and Senate floors by Sunshine Week March 15-21.
To assist you in this process, we have drafted sample letters that you can email to your congressman or senator. Please consider doing so. In addition, please contact ASNE Legal Counsel Kevin M. Goldberg at 703-812-0462 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the substance of the bills or their path to passage.