Improving Access

Groups Break Down how the FOIA Improvement Act Reins in the Use of Exemption 5

Exemption 5 of the Freedom of Information Act has been used to withhold a Presidential Policy Directive instituting transparency, Federal Election Commission guidance on the use of the exemption, a list of unclassified opinions created by the Office of Legal Counsel, and much more. Agencies’ use of Exemption 5 has cut off access to countless records that should be released in the public interest. The bipartisan FOIA Improvement Act, S.

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. Welcomes Leahy-Cornyn Bill to Improve FOIA 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.

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.