2007 saw manic activity in the bipartisan congressional effort to amend the FOIA. After failing to pass legislation in the Congress ushered out in the November 2006 elections, the Democratic majority promised to put forth FOIA amendments in 2007.
In February of 2007, the House of Representatives introduced legislation amending the FOIA, held hearings and approved the bill in March of 2007. The Senate introduced its version of the legislation in March of 2007. The legislation passed the Judiciary Committee in April of 2007. However, Sen. Jon Kyl placed a secret hold on the legislation in June of 2007 (his secret hold was outed by bloggers soon thereafter). After negotiations with Kyl (supposedly doing the bidding of the Attorney General), the legislation was amended and passed by the Senate in early August 2007.
However, when the two bills went to conference, a problem occurred because of congressional rules on paying for legislation. To get around this problem, a new bill was introduced and passed in the Senate in December (ironically, Kyl in a 1984 type move, became a co-sponsor of this new bill). The House passed the bill on December 18.
The legislation basically does a number of things. It introduces an ombudsman for disputes between agencies and requesters, it changes the standard for requesters to receive attorney fees when bringing a law suit and it provides for a mechanism where requesters are able to track their FOIA requests.
What the legislation does not do is limit or change any of the current exemptions used by the government to deny requests nor does the legislation in any way fund agency FOIA operations so that requests can be answered in a timely manner.
This was the top story for the year for a number of reasons. It attempted to fix some of the problems facing the FOIA. It demonstrated the problems the legislative process has that were not envisioned by the founding fathers ("secret holds" for one). And finally, it shows that even with this new legislation, the FOIA still needs a lot of help from Congress to be as effective as envisioned when first passed many years ago.