Forum on Press Freedom: What we said

On July 24, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress held a forum on press freedom to examine recent threats and attacks against the media. Much of the discussion focused on the changing landscape in the media and attacks and threats from President Trump. Congress could take several steps to strengthen freedom of the press, we argued, including enacting a shield bill to protect journalists’ sources, a law to protect free speech against abusive libel [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, [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 [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 [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 [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 [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 [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 [More]