Center for Effective Government Urges Congress to Pass Legislation to Strengthen Freedom of Information Act

-For Immediate Release-
February 3, 2015

Contact: Brian Gumm, 202-683-4812,

Center for Effective Government Urges Congress to Pass Legislation
to Strengthen Freedom of Information Act

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2015—Leaders in the Senate and House have introduced legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The reforms would significantly improve access to public information. The Center for Effective Government applauds the work done to develop this legislation and urges both houses of Congress to quickly pass it and send it to President Obama to sign.

In the Senate, Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reintroduced the FOIA Improvement Act, which passed the Senate late last session but failed to pass the House. In the House, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) introduced the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2015, an expanded version of their FOIA reform legislation from last year.

"These reforms will make our government more transparent," said Sean Moulton, Director of Open Government Policy at the Center for Effective Government.

While the House and Senate bills use different language for several provisions, they each address the same list of long-standing problems in the way the Freedom of Information Act is implemented. Each would:

  • Direct agencies to proactively post more information online;

  • Establish a presumption of openness and make it harder for agencies to withhold information from the public unless there is a foreseeable harm from its release;

  • Provide more authority and independence to the Office of Government Information Services (the FOIA ombudsman); and

  • Require agencies to update their outdated FOIA regulations in order to incorporate revisions to the law.

Each bill seeks to make it more difficult for agencies to withhold records about interagency decision making under a widely overused exemption that restricts citizen access to privileged documents. However, the House provisions are clearer that the exemption may not be used for final agency decisions or records related to working law. Advocates have consistently named this as a top priority in improving public access to government information.

Each bill would also require agencies to proactively identify records that are ripe for public disclosure, but the House legislation adds the requirement to FOIA while the Senate bill inserts the provisions into the Records Management Act. Either approach would be a welcome move to encourage greater disclosure without waiting for requests from the public.

The Center for Effective Government encourages the House and Senate to reconcile their different approaches and deliver the strongest reforms to the president's desk for his signature.

"By opening up government decision making to review by citizens, we increase government accountability and strengthen our democracy," Moulton concluded.

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The Center for Effective Government is dedicated to advancing a government that protects people and the environment and encourages an engaged, informed citizenry. Find the Center for Effective Government on Facebook and Twitter.

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