POGO has this update on the Grassley Amendment to the Farm Bill. According to POGO, voting on the amendment was postponed before the Senate adjourned for Memoria Day, largely due to the intervention of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt). The amendment will be taken up again after the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess in early June.
According to the Washington Post, The House Oversight Committee is releasing a report today on agency tracking of FOIA requests. The report will say that the government is not doing a very good job on that end.
Meanwhile, Federal News Radio has this on FOIA related legislation Congress is considering. Of course, none of the legislation is aimed at improving FOIA performance.
VTDigger.org has this report on the Senate's adoption of an amendment from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) that requires a public interest balancing test to be done before the Department of Defense can withhold information it deems to be critical infrastructure information. The balancing test will require the Secretary of Defense to consider whether the disclosure of critical infrastructure information would reveal vulnerabilities that would result in harm to government property or facilities, and whether the public interest in the disclosure of this information outweighs the government’s need to withhold the information.
The Faster FOIA bill, killed off last week in the House of Representatives as a procedural place holder for Speaker Boehner's doomed debt ceiling bill is back. Yesterday, the Senate again passed it sending it back to the House of Representatives. Senator Patrick Leahy's website has more on the bill.
The misnamed bill does not do anything to make the FOIA faster. It creates a commission that is to look at various issues. As I have said a number of times, this is punting the issue -- Congress should hold hearings and introduce real legislation that attacks the problems of slow responses to FOIA requests. However, as demonstrated by the recent debt ceiling fiasco, Congress is more prepared to set up a "commission" than to actually make tough decisions.
One day after its death, the Washington Post editorializes in favor of the Faster FOIA bill and urges the House of Representatives to push for its passage.
If the Post is really in favor of improving FOIA Operations, why doesn't it write stories about how the systems could be improved? Even if sounds too wonkish for their diminishing subscription base, it would probably do more to improve the FOIA than the apparently now dead Faster FOIA Bill of 2011 would.
The bill that is being pushed by Spearker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner (R-OH) is being designated a Senate Package, namely S. 627. S. 627 is the Faster FOIA Bill that was recently passed by the Senate.
Fox News gives this explanation as to why this is being done. Briefly, it's to cut down on the time that will be needed in the Senate to pass the measure -- if it can make it through the House, which according to news reports is not a sure thing.
Meanwhile, OpentheGovernment.org has issued this statement denouncing the move, which I believe will cause the Faster FOIA Act to not move forward in the House.
For those who are regular readers of the blog, I believe this collateral damage to the Faster FOIA Act may be the only positive thing to come from the debt ceiling crisis. If you want a faster FOIA, call your representatives and give them concrete ideas for legislation that will improve FOIA procedures.
The Senate passed the bipartisan "Faster FOIA Act" earlier this year. Now, one of its two sponsors, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) is urging the House of Representatives to pass the Act.
I strongly disagree with Senator Leahy. I believe the act does absolutely nothing to make the FOIA faster -- what it does is create a commission to come up with ideas to make the FOIA faster. As amended in the Senate, It also would make the commission investigate issues surrounding political appointees being involved with FOIA requests. It, in and of itself does nothing to make FOIA faster nor does the bill even fund the commission.
What I would suggest is that Senator Leahy and his co-sponsor, Sen. Cornyn (R-Tx) hold hearings and write actual legislation that make FOIA faster. This legislation is the act they could then urge the House of Representatives to pass.
The Faster FOIA Act has been amended and reported out of committee by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The latest version of the bill can be found here.
The amendment weakens this bill in that it removes the one provision that mandated the committee looking at the FOIA to examine whether the use of any exemptions could be curtailed. Inserted instead was a provision that the committee is supposed to look at the politicization of FOIA requests. This is of course already the subject of House Oversight Hearings.
Readers of the FOIA blog already are aware that I do not like this bill because I believe that no committee is needed to come up with ideas for improving the FOIA -- there are tons of ideas floating; some of which I outlined in the past. Additionally, real hearings held by the Judiciary Committee and staff footwork could come up with a bill that would make the FOIA faster. And if the politicization issue, which is already being looked at is something Congress wants to outlaw they should just put it into law.
Maybe this bill should be called the Not So Faster FOIA.
Congress ocassionally does what it is supposed to do -- introduce legislation that fixes problems in previous legislation that have occurred during litigation over that legislation. In this case, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Or) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) have introduced legislation that would require Medicare to release information on how much physicians earn from Medicare. A 1979 FOIA lawsuit found that the physician's privacy interest trump the public's right to know this information. The proposed bill aims to change that outcome and result in greater government transparency to Medicare.
The Hill reports that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut) has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to make Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac subject to the FOIA. Previously, these two entities were not subject to the FOIA because while they were created by the government, they weren't technically government entities. Currently, they are in receivership and the question of their current FOIA status is up in the air with a number of lawsuits on that question pending.
I strongly believe that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be subject to the FOIA -- as well as similar organizations like the Public Corporation Accounting Oversight Board ("PCAOB"). Hopefully, this will received Democratic support in the House and will have a chance to succeed in the Senate.