For a second time, Rep. Darrell Issa of California and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland are attempting to force more openness and speed on federal agencies with a bill aimed at reforming the 1966 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Just two months after a very similar bill languished in the last Congress, running out of time for final approval after passage in both the House and the Senate, Issa, a Republican, and Cummings, a Democrat, anticipate easy bipartisan passage for the second go-round.
Their bill, with only minor differences to the earlier attempt, is being introduced in the Senate by Texas Republican John Cornyn and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, Politico reports
Starting from the basis of a "presumption of openness," and allowing agencies to withhold information only if they can demonstrate "specific identifiable harm" in releasing information, the bill would require agencies to post information online if requested three or more times, impose a 25-year limit on agencies using Exemption 5 by withholding information under "deliberative process," and establish a single Internet portal for FOIA requests.
It also would give the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), an ombudsman agency, power to report directly to Congress and regularly review agency compliance, strengthen dispute resolution processes, mandate agency updating of their FOIA regulations within 180 days of passage, and establish a chief FOIA counsel, the Times of San Diego reports
In a joint statement, Issa and Cummings said: "The bill places the burden on the agency to demonstrate why the information may be withheld instead of on the public to justify release," The Washington Post reports
"At a time when the American people's trust in the federal government is at an all-time low, we must strengthen and refine our laws that enable transparency and openness in government," Issa said in a statement, The Washington Examiner reported
"In this information technology driven era, it should be easier, not harder, for citizens to have simpler and broader access to government information."
Despite President Barack Obama's pledge that his administration would be the "most transparent administration in history," government agencies were hit in 2014 with a record number of lawsuits, 422, from those seeking information under FOIA, Greg Munno of Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications told the Examiner
Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, told the Post she expects the bill to pass. "I think it's going to be easy," she said. "There's no sensible argument against it."
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