Secrecy News

FOIA Improvement Act Signed Into Law

President Obama signed into law the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Improvement Act of 2016 yesterday.

The Act places a 25 year limit on the use of the deliberative process exemption, codifies a presumption of openness, and makes various procedural improvements in the FOIA. The Department of Justice summarized its understanding of the new law here.

The White House portrayed the law as consistent with its own record of promoting open government.

“I am very proud of all the work we’ve done to try to make government more open and responsive, but I know that people haven’t always been satisfied with the speed with which they’re getting responses and requests,” President Obama said at an Oval Office signing ceremony. “Hopefully this is going to help and be an important initiative for us to continue on the reform path.”

A White House fact sheet said that more would be done. “The Administration is taking a number of steps to further the progress made since 2009, ensuring that this Administration’s track record of openness is institutionalized throughout government and carries forward for years to come.”

But the new FOIA law explicitly provides no new resources for implementation. So in the face of rising and, in fact, unconstrained demand from some FOIA users, it is unclear how much improvement the FOIA Improvement Act can be expected to generate for the average requester.

“In honor of Congress’ passage of FOIA reform bill, I just submitted approx 700 new #FOIA requests to FBI,” tweeted FOIA campaigner Ryan Shapiro on June 14. He did not appear to be joking.