House votes unanimously to fix FOIA process

The House on Tuesday afternoon easily passed legislation to make it easier for people to ask for — and actually receive — information from the government about the government's activities.

Members passed H.R. 1211, the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act, in an easy 410-0 vote. The bipartisan bill was sponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

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Under current law, FOIA requests are known for being returned months or even years after they are made, and with many key portions of documents redacted.

The legislation would codify an Obama administration memo that calls on all federal agencies to have a presumption of openness when fulfilling requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It would also create a single, online portal for FOIA requests under the Office of Management and Budget, and set up a government body to recommend future improvements to FOIA.

"It's critical at this time that the American people believe and actually receive the information that lets them understand what their government is doing," Issa said during the debate.

Issa added that the bill would require agencies to release information publicly once they decide it's fine to release it to a few people. "If you're going to tell one person that it's reasonable to have public access, then all of the public should have easy access to that information," he said.

Cummings said the bill would make it more difficult for agencies to deny requests for information.

"Under this bill, an agency would not be allowed to withhold information in response to a FOIA request unless disclosure is prohibited by law, or would cause specific, identifiable harm to an interest protected by one of FOIA's exemptions," he said.

The House also passed another bill from Issa today — H.R. 1232, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. This legislation would reform the federal government's process for acquiring billions of dollars of new technology, including by requiring the government to develop a new, streamlined acquisition plan.

The House approved this bill by voice vote.