Civic News

Open gov organizations urge Obama to support FOIA reform

Sunshine Week, they argue, is the perfect time to declare support for advancing freedom of information.

More than 40 organizations supporting open government, including OpenTheGovernment.org, the ACLU and the Sunlight Foundation, signed a letter Wednesday urging President Obama to support the bipartisan FOIA reform bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday.
The House passed a similar bill in January, one that earned a tepid endorsement from Sunlight. “At the very least, the new bill is an incremental step in the right direction,” the group wrote.
Essentially both bills seek to codify the current “presumption of openness” in the government. They would do so by requiring that agencies identify a specific “foreseeable harm” when choosing not to make a document public. They’d also create a single online portal for all FOIA requests.
The two bills will need to be reconciled before making it to Obama’s desk, but open government advocates are getting a jump on putting pressure on the administration — citing Sunshine Week (this week) and the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act (this summer) as the perfect opportunity to support and advance reform.
“Without these legislative changes, implementation of the FOIA will remain a matter of policy, not a statutory command, too often driven by partisan political concerns,” the letter reads.
The Obama administration has opposed similar FOIA reform legislation in the past. According to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Justice Department lobbied to keep a 2014 reform bill from even making it to Obama’s desk. At the time the DOJ cited “major concerns” with the legislation. The White House, according to The Hill, remained publicly quiet on the topic.
However, on Tuesday, a White House spokesperson told Politico that Obama is prepared to sign the Senate’s FOIA reform bill, if it reaches his desk “in that form.”

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