June 30, 2016 – Today, the President signed the FOIA Improvement Act, codifying into law comprehensive bipartisan reforms to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the first time in nearly a decade. The signing of the bill comes days before the 50th anniversary of the FOIA, signed into law on July 4, 1966. The FOIA Improvement Act is the result of a herculean effort on the part of Congressional leaders, staff members, and open government advocates who have been working to push the FOIA reform legislation that is critical to ensuring government accountability.
Importantly, the reform bill codifies the presumption of openness -- requiring records be released unless there is a foreseeable harm or legal requirement to withhold them. This language mirrors the Obama Administration’s and the Department of Justice’s 2009 guidance on FOIA, which reversed the policy of the Bush administration that had encouraged agencies to limit discretionary disclosures of information. With these legislative changes, the law makes clear that FOIA, under any administration, must be approached with a presumption of openness.