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These DC Councilmembers are trying to change FOIA

On Tuesday, Councilmembers David Grosso and Mary Cheh introduced a bill that makes some significant changes to D.C.'s open government rules. Here's what you need to know.

Councilmember David Grosso is big on open gov. (Photo via Facebook)

On Tuesday, Councilmembers David Grosso and Mary M. Cheh introduced a new bill to make significant changes to D.C.’s open government practices.
Namely, the proposed piece of legislation makes tweaks to the District’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Open Meetings Act and Open Government Office Act.
The bill is a veritable laundry list of changes to the legislation above — ranging from “clarifying” various procedures and exemptions to “creating” others. To make sense of the changes it would make, asked Grosso to weigh in on what parts of the bill he’s most excited about.
Here’s what he highlighted:

  1. The bill proposes an amendment to FOIA that stipulates that once information has been released to one person, it must be available to all. Grosso didn’t give specifics on where such information would be available, but the text of the bill mentions a “common web portal … maintained by the Office of the Chief Technology Officer.”
  2. The bill changes the process of appealing a FOIA denial. At the moment, any appeals are directed at the Mayor — Grosso’s proposed legislation would make the Office of Open Government the arbiter of such cases. This would be a crucial extension of power for the independent office.
  3. The bill amends the Open Meetings Act to include more government agencies, notably the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANC). What are those again?

Of course, the bill makes a lot of other changes, some small and semantic and others not so much.
Another notable change is how the bill would extend the time that agencies have to respond to FOIA requests. Currently, the Act gives 15 business days, with a possible extension of 10 business days. Grosso’s proposed legislation would extend the base time to 20 days, and the possible extension to 15 days.
Why wait longer for your FOIA results? Grosso told that the current timelines are unrealistic, leading to frustration for all parties. A few extra days will allow a more fair assessment of compliance.
Grosso also expects that with the new “open for one, open for all” FOIA mandate agencies will receive fewer requests overall, and have more time to do their job right.
Grosso told that the bill is a result of a collaborative effort to codify open government moves made by former mayor Vincent Gray and others. “We’re not trying to say that someone has done it wrong,” he said.
Rather, he’s trying to get D.C. to a place where it’s at the forefront of open government again. And given that there seems to be widespread interest in the topic of open government recently, Grosso is hoping it’ll be a collaborative effort going forward as well.


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