Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-OH) (R) cuts ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) off during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government...
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

House scuttles bipartisan FOIA reforms

Updated
The deeply divided House of Representatives doesn’t have too many unanimous votes, but earlier this year, the “FOIA Oversight and Implementation Ac” sailed through the chamber without a single opponent. The fact that its chief co-sponsors in the House were Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) – two people, pictured above, who rarely see eye to eye – made the bill’s popularity that much more noteworthy.
 
And as of this morning, it’s dead.
 
As Dylan Byers reported a while back, the point of the bill was to create a “presumption of disclosure” in federal agencies in response to information under the Freedom of Information Act. To the delight of news organizations, it also would have created a “centralized online portal for FOIA requests under the Office of Management and Budget.”
 
A nearly identical proposal ran into some resistance in the Senate, but members worked out the kinks and unanimously approved their version on Monday.
 
All the House had to do was endorse the Senate version and it’d be off to President Obama for a signature. That didn’t happen.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Thursday night officially declared reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) dead this year, as the House gaveled out of session.
 
And he blamed Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for its death. “And Boehner kills #FOIA improvements,” Leahy tweeted at a reporter a little before…. Leahy and other advocates unsuccessfully pushed House leadership this week to take up the reforms intended to increase government transparency.
In an ironic twist, the legislation related to government transparency died for reasons the Speaker’s office has not yet shared.
 
Lauren Walker had a good piece in Newsweek on the merits of the legislation.
One of the most significant changes in the bill involves exemption 5, which is used to protect inter- or intra-agency communications. Transparency advocates say this is one of the most abused exemptions. According to reports by the Associated Press, exemption 5 is being used at an unprecedented rate. With FOIA use skyrocketing under the Obama administration, transparency advocates say the atmosphere is ripe for reform. […]
 
Another significant change made to exemption 5 includes a 25-year threshold, meaning that government records withheld using this exemption can no longer remain permanently classified. After 25 years, the bill says exemption 5 records can be released. The bill also includes a provision that says agencies must prove that actual harm will occur before they use many exemptions.
It’s possible that the House simply ran out of time – Boehner was a little busy yesterday – and it’ll be back in the new Congress. I’ll keep you posted.
 

John Boehner

House scuttles bipartisan FOIA reforms

Updated