An important milestone has been reached to promote government transparency and accountability. Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Improvement Act, a series of reforms to the current Freedom of Information Act intended to improve and streamline public access to information held by the federal government.
The FOIA was originally signed into law on July 4th 1966 and has undergone several amendments since then. In fact, one aspect of the 2016 reforms is the honing of previous FOIA changes. For example, in 2007, the Open Government Act established the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) to "review FOIA policies, procedures and compliance of Federal agencies and to recommend changes to FOIA." The 2016 Improvement Act will allow the OGIS to report directly to Congress with its findings, bypassing any need for approval from other executive branches, OpenTheGovernment.org reports. Essentially, this is intended to provide enhanced access to government information as well as improved processing times for their requests.
Most importantly, the new act "codifies the presumption of openness," OpenTheGovernment.org reports, to ensure the release of federal records unless there are specific legal requirements or foreseeable harms that justify an agency in refusing to do so. According to OpenTheGovernment.org, this echoes the Obama Administration's and the Department of Justice's 2009 stance on the FOIA, as outlined back in 2009.
Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, had this to say about the Improvement Act:
This bill marks an important milestone; it significantly advances the public’s right to know, and includes provisions that the government openness and accountability community has been promoting for the last decade. We can take a moment to celebrate FOIA’s 50th anniversary with a stronger and better statute that enhances the public’s ability to hold officials accountable. There is still work to be done, though, especially in terms of ensuring strong FOIA implementation in the next Administration and Congress.