The Association of Alternative Newsmedia celebrates the passage of S 337, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, upon its signature by President Barack Obama. Coming just days before the 50th anniversary of the signing of the original Freedom of Information Act (which occurred on July 4, 1966), the passage of S 337 carries not only symbolic importance but the restoration of FOIA as a strong tool for public and press oversight of government.
“While AAN members tend to focus on coverage of issues affecting local communities, the federal FOIA is still an integral part of our work,” said AAN President Blair Barna, the Advertising Director of the Charleston City Paper. “Federal funds are spent on actions occurring every day around the country which impact our towns and our citizens. Our states and cities – and, by extension, our residents, are affected by federal programs in areas ranging from energy to the environment to anti-crime and veterans affairs. Alt-weeklies are proud of the work we do in ensuring that these programs are administered in a way that promotes the public good and are free of waste, fraud and abuse.
Among the changes ushered in by S 337 are:
- The “presumption of openness” under which the current Administration now operates will now be a part of federal law and no longer subject to change with each Administration. This means that agencies subject must disclose all information unless there is a foreseeable harm that would result from disclosure or a legal requirement to withhold the information.
- The Office of Government Information Services will now have more independence, which should improve its ability to hold agencies accountable and assist requesters in mediation.
- There will be an increase in “proactive disclosure” to allow more information to be obtained without the need for a FOIA request.
- There is now a 25 year “sunset” on deliberative process records that can otherwise be withheld under FOIA Exemption 5.
The enactment of S 337 is the result of years of work by committed citizens and representatives of organizations like AAN. We thank all our members for the role they have played in this process!