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Freedom of Information Act Research Guide

A guide to researching using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (Feb., 2019)


The Most Recent FOIA Amendment

FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, Public Law No.114-185 (06/30/2016). 130 STAT. 538 (2016) (5 USC § 552, 5 U.S.C.A. § 552  5 U.S.C.S. § 552)   (Effective: June 30, 2016)).

S. 337, - FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, is the latest version of the FOIA passed. It “mak[es] the most significant changes to the Freedom of Information Act in its 50-year history.” You can read more details about the passage in: Cheryl Bolen, Bill Would Make Biggest Changes in 50-Year History16 DIGITAL DISCOVERY & E-EVIDENCE 274-275 (6-23-2016). The most significant changes in the FOIA Improvement Act include:

  •     Section 2 of the Act requires “disclosable records and documents be made available for public inspection in an      electronic format;”
  •     Requires “agencies to make available for inspection in electronic format records that have been requested three or more times (frequently requested records);”
  •     Prohibits “an agency from charging a fee for providing records if the agency misses a deadline for complying with an FOIA request unless unusual circumstances apply and more than 5,000 pages are necessary to respond to the request;”
  •     Prohibits “an agency from withholding information requested under FOIA unless the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an FOIA exemption or disclosure is prohibited by law (presumption of openness);”
  •     Limits to “ a period of 25 years or more” the FOIA exemption for agency communications to allow the disclosure of agency records;”
  •     Requires “the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) to offer mediation services to resolve disputes between agencies and FOIA requesters;”
  •     Expands “the authority and duties of the Chief FOIA Officer of each agency to require officers to serve as the primary agency liaison with OGIS and the Office of Information Policy;”
  •     Establishes “a Chief FOIA Officers Council to develop recommendations for increasing compliance and efficiency in responding to FOIA requests, disseminating information about agency experiences, identifying, developing, and coordinating initiatives to increase transparency and compliance, and promoting performance measures to ensure agency compliance with FOIA requirements; and”
  •     Requires the creation of a consolidated online request portal “that allows a member of the public to submit a request for records to any agency from a single website.”
  •     Section 5 specifies that “no additional funds are authorized to carry out the requirements of this bill.”
  •     Per Section 6, “this bill shall take effect on its enactment date” (which the media expects to be July 4, 2016 (if not before)) and shall apply to all FOIA requests for records made after its enactment date.

“Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said the bill would go a long way toward eliminating the “withhold-it-because-you-want-to exemption” by federal agencies and would make more information available to the public.” 16 Digital Discovery & e-Evidence 274 (Supra.) This comment gives a hint of the dysfunction the reform act is meant to rectify. Senator Patrick Leahy stated, “With today’s passage of the bipartisan FOIA Improvement Act, we have chosen to let the sunshine in.”

Sponsor:  Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Introduced 02/02/2015). (114th Congress (2015-2016).

Committees:  Senate - Judiciary.

Committee Report:  S. Rept. 114-4 - FOIA Improvement Act of 2015.

Congressional Record, Vol. 162 (2016): 

Mar. 15, considered and passed Senate.

June 13, considered and passed House.

Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents (2016):

June 30, Presidential remarks.