House panel asking groups for FOIA complaints

House panel asking groups for FOIA complaints
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The House Oversight Committee asked nearly two dozen public interest groups to share their complaints about the federal government’s compliance with requests for government documents. 

The committee is gearing up for a June 3 hearing on the government’s Freedom of Information Act process and is preparing an analysis of what is broken and what needs to be fixed. 

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“The committee is aware that executive branch agencies use several tactics to deny or delay responses to FOIA requests and FOIA reform is necessary,” Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzCurtis wins Chaffetz's former Utah House seat Top Oversight Dem pushes back on Uranium One probe Tapper hits Fox, Hannity over 'Allahu Akbar' comments after NY terror attack MORE (R-Utah) said in a form letter sent to groups Friday. 

“Agencies sometimes slow-roll responses, create unreasonable requirements for specificity, provide unreasonable fee estimates, and excessively redact information,” he added. 

The committee asked for specific instances where FOIA requests brought back excessive redactions, delays and other barriers. 

The letters went out to groups like Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Public Citizen, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, MuckRock, the ACLU, the Sunlight Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Judicial Watch and many others.

Chaffetz noted that participation with the committee’s probe was completely voluntary. The committee has already sent similar requests for information to journalists, who often use FOIA requests to help with their reporting. 

Committees in the House and Senate have both approved bill’s aimed at increasing the government’s access to information, after reform got tied up last year. Among other things, the bills would mandate a so-called presumption of openness that would require agencies to release records unless they fall under one of the exceptions or could cause a foreseeable harm. 

President Obama called for agencies to comply with this presumption at the beginning of his presidency, but critics say it has not always been followed.