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ARL, 46 Groups Support FOIA Reform in US House, Senate

FBI files on John Lennon, letter by J Edgar Hoover
FBI files on John Lennon, released under FOIA

Two bills were introduced on February 2, 2015, in the US House of Representatives (H.R. 653) and the US Senate (S. 337) to update and reform the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a law that gives US citizens the right to access information from the federal government. The bipartisan bills follow up on the near passage of FOIA legislation in 2014 that was stalled by last-minute federal agency objections. In seeking to move the bills quickly, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary approved S. 337 three days after the legislation was introduced.

ARL joined 46 organizations in supporting the two bills and, in a February 5 letter to the bills’ sponsors (PDF), noted:

Public oversight is critical to ensuring accountability, and the reforms embodied in both the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act (H.R. 653), introduced by Representatives Issa and Cummings, and the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015 (S. 337), introduced by Senators Cornyn and Leahy, are necessary to enable that oversight.

Both FOIA reform bills would:

  • Codify the presumption of openness, thereby requiring records be released unless there is a foreseeable harm or legal requirement to withhold them.
  • Improve public access to released records.
  • Rein in the FOIA b(5) exemption, known as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption, including placing a 25-year sunset on its use.
  • Clarify and reform the use of fees assessed by federal agencies for fulfilling FOIA requests.
  • Strengthen the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of Government Information Services, which reviews FOIA policies, procedures, and agency compliance; recommends changes to FOIA; resolves FOIA disputes between agencies and requesters; and provides information to the public about FOIA.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.