Last April, the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared a Freedom of Information reform bill (S. 849) (S. Rept. 110-59) by voice vote. The bill is similar to legislation (H.R. 1309) overwhelmingly passed by the House earlier this year by a vote of 308-117, with the bi-partisan support of 80 Republicans.
Unfortunately, since the bill passed the Judiciary Committee floor consideration has been stymied by a “hold” placed on the bill by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) at the behest of the Bush administration. An attempt was recently made by the Democratic majority to bring the bill to the floor, which was opposed by the Republican leadership. The National Coalition for History strongly supports FOIA reform legislation and we are urging readers to contact the Senate and voice your support for bringing S. 849 to the floor.
S. 849 strengthens the requirement that agencies respond to FOIA requests within 20 days. The bill requires agencies to provide requesters with individualized tracking numbers for each request and access to a telephone or Internet hotline with information about the status of requests. The legislation also strengthens agency reporting requirements to identify excessive delays and creates a new FOIA ombudsman to help FOIA requesters resolve problems without having to resort to litigation.
S. 849 makes it easier for citizen groups to challenge the improper withholding of government information by expanding access to attorneys’ fees for FOIA requesters who successfully challenge an agency’s denial of information. And, it expands the coverage of FOIA to independent journalists and the so-called “new media.” Under current rules, such news outlets have been denied FOIA fee waivers solely because they lacked an institutional affiliation with a recognized news media entity.
In March, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on H.R. 1309, expressing the reasons for the Administration’s opposition to the bill.
NCH is asking you to contact your Senators to urge both their cosponsorhip and support for S. 849. You should also ask them to contact their respective party leadership to request that they bring the legislation to the floor. Simply follow this link to the Humanities Advocacy Center to send an electronic message. Alternatively, all Senators can be reached through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202)224-3121.