Improving the FOIA Reform Bill, HR 1211

As many of you may know, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently passed a bill authored by the Committee's Chair and Ranking Member, Representative Darrell Issa and Representative Elijah Cummings, to improve the federal government's system of processing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The bill, HR 1211, makes some important changes that would strengthen the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) by giving the office the authority to report directly to Congress and to by-pass review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Long-time readers may remember how OMB review delayed OGIS' first set of recommendations from reaching Congress for more than one year. The bill would also ensure that OGIS has timely access to agencies' FOIA reports and gives OGIS more access to Chief FOIA Officers by creating a Chief FOIA Officers Council. Other notable provisions include: a requirement that agencies update their FOIA regulations (a recent audit by the National Security Archive found that many agencies have not updated their regulations to reflect the Administration's pro-disclosure FOIA policy or even the changes made to the law by Congress in 2007); and a pilot project of the FOIAonline system, a shared-service model that makes it easier for the public to make and track FOIA requests (and which, among other benefits, could save the government millions of dollars).

Since the release of the bill, OpenTheGovernment.org has been working with many of our partners and other allies to identify provisions in the bill that are particularly good, and to identify other changes to the law that would make it easier for the public to use FOIA to get government information. Recently, we shared with the Committee staff our top recommendations for amending the bill to further strengthen it before it is taken to the House floor.

While the Committee's quick passage of HR 1211 is a good sign for the possibility of passing FOIA reform legislation during the 113th Congress, the bill has a long way to go before it is signed into law. It still needs to go to the House floor for a vote, and no companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate yet. We look forward to continuing to work with our allies and Congressional champions of the public's right to know to pass as strong a bill as possible.

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