Border Wall bill contains FOIA exemption for building wall, maintaining border

The revised draft of the Border Security for America Act of 2017 (H.R. 3548), to be considered by the House Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee as soon as today,  would shield from public scrutiny and accountability ongoing law enforcement activities along the border. The Freedom of Information Act is one of dozens of laws that would not apply to border activities, including construction and maintenance of the border wall and ongoing efforts to stop illegal border crossings. As Kevin Goldberg writes for the American Society of News Editors (an NMOG member), the impact would be broad: The public and press would [More]

FOIA: The Ombudsman Needs to Grow

When Congress improved FOIA last year, it built in some growing pains for the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). Today, we’re seeing those pains in longer than usual waits for replies from OGIS. The office has reportedly been inundated with requests for assistance as FOIA requesters navigate FOIA. In response, they’ve had to triage the Office’s response to help requests. OGIS was never intended to add another level of waiting to the FOIA process, but FOIA reformers in Congress knew growing pains were inevitable. To fulfill its mission, OGIS will have to become bigger than its current size to [More]

Pentagon (again) seeks help from Congress to keep tactics secret

Pentagon hopes Congress will protect tactics, techniques and procedures from disclosure. Military also seeks to protect rules of engagement. Public interest in disclosure could outweigh confidentality, but military gets to decide in Pentagon’s proposal. Defense Department is hoping the third time’s the charm as it once again asks for the authority to withhold from the public certain military tactics, techniques and procedures , the disclosure of which would give an adversary an advantage. The proposal (Sec. 1003 of DoD’s draft legislation), which the Defense Department would like included in the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2018, is narrower than [More]

Cosmetics manufacturing bill (H.R. 575) hides adverse events

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tx.) has introduced legislation that appears to allow cosmetics manufacturers to keep product complaints reported to the federal government secret. The legislation (H.R. 575), appears to allow the executive branch wide latitude to determine through regulation what agencies must require manufacturers to disclose publicly. “(g) List.—The Secretary shall compile and maintain an up-to-date and publicly available electronic list of cosmetics and ingredients for which statements are submitted under this section. A statement submitted pursuant to this section shall not be subject to disclosure under section 552 of title 5, United States Code. The Secretary may make publicly [More]

CFTC Reauthorization (H.R. 238) includes a FOIA exemption

Legislation approved on January 12 by the full House of Representatives to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (H.R. 238) contains an exemption to disclosure under federal FOIA for information CFTC may “asertain” regarding complicated trading structures known as commodity pools and client accounts. As introduced, the legislation required that the information be treated as investigative material. CFTC could publish aggregated information the disclosure of which would not identify “any person or firm, or such person’s proprietary information.” On its face, the exemption appears to cover a broad amount of information, including: “(A) the commodity trading advisor, commodity pool operator or the trading strategies of [More]

Implementing FOIA a test of new administration, 2016 FOIA Amendments

The incoming Trump administration has a narrower window for affecting how agencies implement their obligations under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) than previous presidents, however each administration sets the tone for disclosure decisions in cases where agencies have discretion. With the enactment of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, Congress wrote into law an explicit requirement that agencies disclose information requested under FOIA unless they foresee a harm to a protected interest, such as national security or personal privacy. While the new administration cannot change the presumption of openness by executive action alone, it can influence what agencies do (or don’t do) when [More]

A FOIA Portal, Defined

In recent years groups inside and outside of government have created new tools for FOIA administration, such as iFOIA, MuckRock, and FOIA Machine. In addition, the federal government built its own FOIAonline. Local governments, too, are getting into the game. Many years ago we extolled the virtues of agencies building a system to more efficiently receive, track, process and respond to FOIA requests. And Congress included a portal requirement in legislation  in FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. FOIA Tools Inside Government FOIA.gov (built and administered by the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy) currently provides an introduction to FOIA, tutorials on [More]

FOIA@50: Hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee (July 12, 2016)

A panel of witnesses told the Senate Judiciary Committee that technology and better records management were keys to improving the Freedom of Information Act. SGI Director Rick Blum pointed to several stories relying in part on FOIA that helped change government action or otherwise make an impact in communities. The hearing was a chance to celebrate enactment of the Freedom of Information Act Improvement, signed into law on June 30, 2016. Also testifying from the media perspective was Professor Dave Cullier on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists. Blum told the Committee that the government should better manage its records. Amazon [More]