Obama ‘looks forward to signing’ FOIA reform

Obama ‘looks forward to signing’ FOIA reform
© Greg Nash

President Obama “looks forward to signing” a bill to expand public access to federal records, the White House said Tuesday.

"The President looks forward to signing into law the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which makes important upgrades to the FOIA system established nearly 50 years ago,” White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said in a statement. 

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The bill is similar to past proposals that agencies like the Department of Justice have lobbied against

The statement came hours after the House approved reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and sent them to Obama for his signature. The Senate passed the bill in March after reaching a deal.  

There was no doubt Obama would sign the measure if it reached his desk, but the White House had been largely silent about its views on the bill.  

The White House also used the opportunity to continue pressing to end the exemption that keeps FOIA from applying to Congress. 

“We look forward to continuing to improve access to government information by signing this bill into law,” Hoffine said. “In addition, we continue to believe that extending FOIA to Congress would serve as another important step in increasing government transparency." 

The White House touted some of its past transparency efforts, including the 4.6 million FOIA requests that have been processed during Obama’s tenure. 

One of the bill’s largest changes would apply the force of law to the so-called presumption of openness, which requires agencies to err on the side of disclosure when processing open records requests. Early in Obama’s presidency, he issued a memo to the heads of agencies directing them to follow the principle. 

The bill is supported by both parties, but they have starkly different takes on the Obama administration’s record on transparency. 

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said the bill “builds on the work” of the Obama administration, while Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Thanks to the farm lobby, the US is stuck with a broken ethanol policy MORE (R-Iowa) said the reform is necessary because “the President’s administration has failed miserably to make good on his pledge.”

The White House’s entire statement is below: 

"The President looks forward to signing into law the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which makes important upgrades to the FOIA system established nearly 50 years ago.

"On his first day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum to the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies directing that FOIA be administered with a clear presumption: 'in the face of doubt, openness prevails.'  This legislation helps to ensure that presumption will apply across administrations by requiring agencies to withhold information only where a 'foreseeable harm' exists, codifying the standard established by this Administration.

"As part of its ongoing efforts to improve transparency, the Administration has already begun to implement various elements of the legislation, including a single access website where individuals can submit requests for information to multiple agencies at once and track the status of those requests.   In the seven years since the President took office, FOIA requests have increased nearly thirty percent.  Given this unprecedented challenge, the Administration is proud to have processed more than 4.6 million FOIA requests to date and released all or some of the information sought by requesters in more than 91 percent of cases.

"In addition to these efforts, the Administration has worked to make government information more readily available without needing to file a FOIA request.  This effort includes the monthly publication of White House visitor logs, with more than 5 million records released to date, and Data.gov, which makes available more than 180,000 data sets of government information on topics ranging from education, to climate, to public health.  We look forward to continuing to improve access to government information by signing this bill into law.  In addition, we continue to believe that extending FOIA to Congress would serve as another important step in increasing government transparency."