Senate Judiciary Schedules Meeting on FOIA Legislation

16 September 2014

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Sept. 18 meeting at which one agenda item is S.2520, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014.

Under Senate rules, a matter may be “held over” to the next meeting at the request of any committee member, so there is a possibility that approval of the bill will be delayed. The meeting will begin at 11 a.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

If such a delay occurs, the committee would not return to the matter until after the election when the Congress reconvenes for the “lame duck” post-election session, likely in late November.

The key to final Senate passage may rest with the Senate Republican leaders, but supporters of the bill are optimistic. They point to the fact that the bill has a Republican sponsor, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who helped develop the bill with Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Also promising is that the Senate bill appears to have the backing of the House Republicans who earlier this year passed a somewhat less ambitious FOIA bill (HR 1211). It won House approval unanimously in February.

The Senate bill  goes farther by including a provision to restrict the government’s use of the exemption, b(5), which is designed to protect the process of deliberation within the executive branch. Although the House bill does not contain such a provision, it has the support of Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the chief sponsor of the House bill. (See previous FreredomInfo.org report.)

The Senate bill contains many of the House bill provision. It would:

  • require federal agencies to make agency records that can be disclosed under such Act available for public inspection in an electronic format,
  • limit the authority of an agency to charge a fee if the agency misses a deadline for complying with a FOIA request,
  • establish a presumption in favor of disclosure and prohibit the application of exemptions from FOIA based on technicalities,
  • expand the authority and duties of the Chief FOIA Officer of each agency for promoting compliance with the FOIA disclosure requirements, and
  • establish a Chief FOIA Officers Council to develop recommendations for increasing compliance with FOIA requirements.

Further, it would requires the head of each federal agency to:

  • review agency regulations and issue regulations for the disclosure of records in accordance with the amendments to FOIA made by this Act, and
  • include in such regulations procedures for engaging in dispute resolution through the FOIA Public Liaison and the Office of Government Information Services.

The bill also would the program for the efficient management of federal agency records to require agency heads to establish procedures for:

  • identifying records of general interest or use to the public that are appropriate for public disclosure, and
  • posting such records in a publicly-accessible electronic format.

For more on the bill, see this resource page in OpentheGovernment.org.

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