Government accountability supporters throughout the country are preparing to celebrate the public's right to know during Sunshine Week (March 11-17), and it looks like Congress may have the same idea. On Monday, Reps. William Lacy Clay, Todd Russell Platts, and Henry Waxman introduced a bipartisan bill to make several requester-friendly changes to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which hasn't been significantly updated since 1996. Today the amendments got a thumbs-up from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and could be on the House floor as early as next week.
Improvements that H.R. 1309 will make to the FOIA include:
- Not allowing agencies to charge fees for requests that aren't processed within 20 working days.
- Ensuring that a broader range of journalists is entitled to reduced processing fees.
- Making it easier for requesters to recover attorney's fees when they prevail in FOIA lawsuits against the government.
- Creating an ombudsman's office to help resolve disputes between requesters and agencies without litigation.
- Establishing a system to help people track the progress of their FOIA requests.
- Imposing greater reporting requirements to let Congress and the public know more about how agencies are handling requests.
- Making sure that government records held by private contractors are subject to release under FOIA.
EFF thinks this bill will give agencies greater incentive to follow the law and make it easier for all FOIA requesters to access government documents.