Open Government

Clock runs out on FOIA update

capitol dome

The FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 had widespread support in Congress, but both chambers struggled to get a final floor vote.

Members of the House of Representatives were set to leave town after passing the fiscal 2015 appropriations bill and a two-day continuing resolution in the evening hours of Dec. 11. One item they left on the table was a bill updating and expanding the Freedom of Information Act.

The measure would expand electronic publication of documents that are the subject of three FOIA requests, or are determined to be of high interest to the public. It would also establish some consequences for agencies that miss FOIA deadlines, and make it harder for records requests to be rejected on technicalities. And the bill would make a "presumption of openness" provision from a 2009 presidential directive the law of the land.

The Senate passed the bill, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), by voice vote Dec. 8, but only after being delayed by a hold placed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller. The retiring West Virginia Democrat said he was concerned that the bill could give those targeted in consumer and financial fraud cases  "new ways to obstruct and delay investigations into their conduct."

The House passed a different version of the bill in February by a vote of 410-0, and it was supported by an array of open government groups. The Senate-passed version appeared headed to easy enactment --provided that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) brought it up for a vote.

That failed to happen. "And Boehner kills #FOIA improvements," Leahy tweeted in the early hours of Dec. 12, after the House closed up shop.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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