Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

How FOIA Reform Was Killed

Jason Leopold, Vice:

The FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014, co-sponsored by then–House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and ranking member Elijah Cummings, would have codified into law Obama’s presidential memorandum, signed on his first day in office in 2009, that instructed all government agencies to “adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government.” […]

Additionally, the legislation called for the implementation of a centralized online portal, overseen by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to handle all FOIA requests and required government agencies to update their FOIA regulations. The bill unanimously passed by a vote of 410-0, one of the few pieces of legislation during President Barack Obama’s tenure to receive bipartisan support.

But the administration “strongly opposed passage” of the House bill and opposed nearly every provision that would have made it easier for journalists, historians, and the public to access government records. The White House claimed it would increase the FOIA backlog, result in astronomical costs, and cause unforeseen problems with processing requests, according to a secret six-page DOJ set of talking points turned over to the Freedom of the Press Foundation along with 100 pages of internal DOJ emails about the FOIA bill.

I’ve filed only a handful of FOIA requests, but the process for doing so is archaic and byzantine. It’s also slightly different from agency-to-agency, department-to-department. Everything about this bill sounds promising; that it was killed in such an underhanded way is deeply concerning.