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The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), enacted in 1966 and amended several times, establishes the public's right to obtain information from federal government agencies to "ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption, and to hold the governors accountable to the governed." OpenTheGovernment.org works with our partners, the Administration, and Congress to secure full implementation of the FOIA, the amendments to it, and the FOIA reform promised by the White House and the Attorney General.

The statute requires federal agencies to provide the fullest possible disclosure of information to the public, although it does provide a limited set of exemptions for disclosure.  In recent years the openness community has won several significant legislative reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that could improve the FOIA process and make it more difficult for legislators to exempt information from the public. Among other reforms, the 2007 OPEN Government Act required the establishment of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) to mediate FOIA disputes, review FOIA processes and recommend additional reforms. Additionally, a provision was enacted in 2009 to require all new FOIA exemptions tucked into other pieces of legislation to specifically cite the FOIA statute, making it easier for Congressional aides, openness advocates, and the public to find them and for our community to fight them.

In the Executive Branch, President Obama and Attorney General Holder have issued policies that support increased proactive disclosure of information and in response to FOIA requests. These changes in law and policy will not, on their own, change the behavior of government agencies, however.

Broad Coalition of Organizations Sign on in Support of FOIA Improvement Act of 2014

Fifty organizations representing a broad range of interests and crossing the political spectrum expressed support for the recently-introduced FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, S. 2520. The bill was introduced earlier this week by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), who have a long history of working together to develop and pass legislation that makes the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) a better tool for the public to obtain government records.

First Meeting of the Federal FOIA Advisory Committee

Click "Read More" to scroll through our first-person account of the kick-off meeting of the federal FOIA Modernization Act Advisory Committee.

Groups Praise FOIA Improvement Act

On June 24th, Senators Leahy and Cornyn released the FOIA Improvement Act. OpenTheGovernment.org outlined reasons why we strongly support he bill here. Excerpts from our partners' responses and links to news coverage and analysis are below. 

OpenTheGovernment.org Welcomes Leahy-Cornyn Bill to Improve FOIA

OpenTheGovernment.org strongly supports the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, a bill introduced by longtime champions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy and Senator Cornyn. The bill addresses a number of issues that members of our coalition have identified as obstacles to the public’s ability to use the FOIA to get timely access to government records.

Cybersecurity Bill to Be Marked Up Includes New FOIA Exemption & Tie to Espionage Act

A cybersecurity bill from the leadership of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) is scheduled for markup on Thursday.

FOUO and FOIA: Two Letters (Should) Make All the Difference

In 2010 transparency advocates welcomed an important new Executive Order that promised to phase out the use of confusing stamps like For Official Use Only (FOUO) and make sure that such markings were not used by agencies to deny the public access to information. However, as Patrice McDermott testified before a House subcommittee this week, intransigence and resistance from some agencies has drawn out the process so that it will be 2018, 2019 and beyond before agencies stop using these stamps. And, as we learned from a story posted by Jason Leopold on the Guardian earlier this week, the public is still not seeing the benefits that should have begun almost immediately. What should the government do to make sure agencies are not using the delay in implementation to keep information from the public?

Partners Release Model FOIA Regulations

Last week several OTG partners released a “model FOIA regulation” in advance of the launch of an effort by the Office of Information Policy (OIP) at the Department of Justice to develop a common FOIA regulation that all agencies can adopt. As you may know, each of the 99 agencies that process FOIA requests have a FOIA regulation that explains in detail how the agency implements the law, and what requesters must do to have their request processed.

Recent FOIA Response on OLC Memos Underscores Need for More Openness

Recently Ryan Reilly, a reporter at the Huffington Post, tweeted out a picture of a list of unclassified opinions by the Office of Legal Counsel in 2013 that he received in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The problem? The title of all but one of the memos listed was redacted using FOIA's Exemption 5, which (as we highlighted in recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee) is known among FOIA requester's as the "we don't want to give it to you exemption."

Justice's Opportunities to Make FOIA Work Better for the Public

After our recent meeting with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to discuss the open government community's ideas for how to make the department more open and accountable, the Associate Attorney General, Tony West, invited us to speak with DOJ's FOIA Council. The Council is a group of agency officials from all of DOJ's components that meet on a quarterly basis to discuss how they can improve DOJ's processing of FOIA requests.

10 Years of Opening the Government

On May 8 OpenTheGovernment.org will be celebrating our 10th anniversary. At our  celebration we will release a video about OpenTheGovernment.org. As a preview of the celebration, see clips below from the interviews we've conducted with our founders and supporters. Click here to see interviewers with and statements from our founders, funders, and champions! 

The Classified Section

Check out our new blog, The Classified Section, for analysis of national security secrecy.

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