FOIA Facts: NonsenseBy Scott A. Hodes, Published on March 19, 2010
Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT.) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have introduced a bill establishing a committee of citizens to make recommendations on improving FOIA performance. A similar version of this bill was introduced in 2005 and went nowhere fast.
I think the bill is nonsense. While getting recommendations on how to improve the Freedom of Information Act is a worthy goal, it can be done without legislation, without going through any bureaucratic red-tape that will ensue in establishing the proposed committee, and even better, it can be done now.
Many, in fact too many to mention here, have offered suggestions to improve FOIA operations. I've offered a number of suggestions (which have gone nowhere), such as the direct funding of FOIA operations by Congress and time limiting the use of certain exemptions (such as deliberative process privileged material). Further, if the Senate is interested in passing improvements in the FOIA, they could hold actual hearings asking participants for their views. The Senate staff could then follow up and research these issues. Then Senators Leahy and Cornyn could take these suggestions and the work of their staffs, and craft them into a bill--and better yet, this bill improving FOIA operations could be done this legislative session!
I really can only think of one advantage that the proposed bill has over the option I have presented. A legislatively mandated committee would likely have an easier time getting access to agency FOIA professionals. However, these agency FOIA professionals are subject to Congressional hearing subpoenas so I'm not convinced that this access really makes the proposed committee necessary.
The tools for improving FOIA performance are already here. I suggest that Senators Leahy, Cornyn and any others interested in the issue use them now.