Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Secret Hold on Senate FOIA Bill

Exempted Status, and Much More April 23, 2015



by Lauren Harper

Unknown Senators are placing a secret hold on the Senate’s FOIA bill, S 337. The bill was introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-Tx) and cosponsored by Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) and Charles Grasssley (R-Ia), the ranking member and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is virtually identical to the bill that passed the Senate via unanimous consent last session.

The bill (now at risk due to the secret hold) would strengthen transparency by: increasing the independence of the FOIA Ombuds Office, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS); improve access to digital records; codify a presumption of openness; require agencies to update their FOIA regulations within 180 days of the bills passage; and make clear that “unusual” FOIA requests (that are fewer than 50,000 pages) get the standard FOIA extension of 10 days.

In the past, transparency advocates have had to call every single Senate office to find out which Senator was holding up the bill, and why. Hopefully the hold will be lifted before requiring advocates to resort to such measures to improve the public’s access to information.

There is a limited-time-only chance to *suggest* which CIA operational files should be removed from their exempted status, a result of one of the most damaging B3 FOIA Exemption statutes ever passed.
According to a recent notice published in the Federal Register, “The CIA is in the process of conducting the 2015 decennial review of its operational files to determine whether any of the previously designated files, or portions thereof, can be removed from any of the specified categories of exempted files.”

The CIA Information Act of 1984 requires that the decennial review “include consideration of the historical value or other public interest in the subject matter of the particular category of files or portions thereof and the potential for declassifying a significant part of the information contained therein.”

BK: Thanks to Joe Backes at Justice for JFK for calling attention to this.

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