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house Bill H.R. 1615

Should it be Easier to Ask the DHS for Freedom of Information Act Requests?

Argument in favor

Freedom of Information Act requests play an integral role in ensuring that citizens can get a clear understanding how their government operates. DHS has been flooded with FOIA requests, and improving response times will help make the agency more transparent.

Loraki's Opinion
···
10/10/2016
Not a bad idea! As Countable said: "Wondering what kinds of things FOIA requests can bring to light? One FOIA request caused the State Department to begin publishing emails sent by Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State, after it was revealed that a large number of her business-related emails that were stored on a personal server were deleted." http://www.wsj.com/articles/hillary-clintons-state-department-staff-kept-tight-rein-on-records-1432081701 http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/28/hillary-clinton-emails/70583404/ My question is this: Why has the Senate Judiciary Committee been sitting on this bill for over a year after it passed the House?! Date Chamber All Actions 07/07/2015 Senate Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Type of Action: Introduction and Referral 06/25/2015-10:58am https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1615/all-actions?overview=closed Perhaps no action is needed because of this report that was submitted by the DHS Chief FOIA Officer in March 2015 to the AG. I don't know. The report is 65 pages long, and I haven't read it yet. But you know what? I don't trust the DHS any more than I trust the DOJ, the EPA, TSA, BLM, FDA, FBI, or any other part of the Obama Administration! Anyway, here's a link to the report: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/FOIA/2016/2015ChiefFOIAOfficerReport.pdf
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Argument opposed

This bill doesn’t provide DHS with any additional resources to deal with increased numbers of FOIA requests and a growing backlog of unresolved requests. The legislators who wrote this bill shouldn’t be surprised if the backlog continues to grow in fiscal year 2015.

Mickb's Opinion
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07/25/2015
You cant ask people to do more with less. We need to provide more resources for handling requests if we want them handled faster.
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What is House Bill H.R. 1615?

All in the name of transparency, this bill requires the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) to update its regulations around the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are a commonly used tool by concerned citizens and journalists seeking to acquire greater insight into the operations of the government in a particular area. 

Under this bill, DHS would also have to identify the costs of complying with FOIA requests, find ways to more efficiently follow FOIA's provisions, and work to reduce the backlog of information requests.

New regulations for implementing FOIA requests would include:

  • Guidance for the public on the procedures for filing FOIA requests for DHS rules, opinions, orders, records, or proceedings;

  • Updated guidance for the branches of DHS that have to process FOIA requests;

  • Detailed information on fees and costs associated with, and the appeals process for, FOIA requests.

The Chief FOIA Officer would also, under this bill, have to:

  • Identify how much it costs every year for DHS to implement FOIA;

  • Develop reporting standards for detailing the cost of processing requests;

  • Identify and eliminate unnecessary and duplicative actions taken by DHS when processing FOIA requests;

  • Create a plan for automating FOIA request processing.

Impact

People sending FOIA requests to DHS, DHS employees, Congress, DHS’ Chief FOIA Officer, and the DHS’ Chief Privacy Officer.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 1615

$0.00
The CBO estimates that implementing this bill would not significantly affect federal spending because there are already efforts by DHS to address the backlog and streamline the process.

More Information

In-Depth: In recent years there has been a significant influx of FOIA requests to DHS. Since 2009, FOIA requests have increased by 182 percent, with the 291,242 requests sent in 2014 setting the record for the most FOIA requests DHS has ever seen. Consequently, the backlog of unanswered FOIA requests grew from 51,575 to 103,480 during that fiscal year.

This bill was passed by the House Homeland Security Committee via voice vote.

Other provisions of the bill include: 

DHS’ Chief Privacy Officer would be required to update and issue guidance to the heads of each of the relevant DHS components regarding the goal of reducing the backlog in processing requests by 50 percent between the fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

The Chief FOIA Officer would also be directed to:

  • Include in each semi-annual privacy report submitted under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 the total costs to DHS of meeting FOIA requirements in that reporting period, and an assessment of progress in meeting backlog reduction goals.

  • Include in the second semi-annual report for fiscal year 2016 a description of any cost savings identified and the automation plan DHS develops.


Of Note: Wondering what kinds of things FOIA requests can bring to light? One FOIA request caused the State Department to begin publishing emails sent by Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State, after it was revealed that a large number of her business-related emails that were stored on a personal server were deleted.


Media:

Summary by Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Flickr user Fort Meade)

AKA

DHS FOIA Efficiency Act of 2015

Official Title

To direct the Chief FOIA Officer of the Department of Homeland Security to make certain improvements in the implementation of section 552 of title 5, United States Code (commonly known as the Freedom of Information Act), and for other purposes.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
  • The house Passed June 25th, 2015
    Roll Call Vote 423 Yea / 0 Nay
      house Committees
      Oversight, Management, and Accountability
      Committee on Homeland Security
    IntroducedMarch 25th, 2015

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    Not a bad idea! As Countable said: "Wondering what kinds of things FOIA requests can bring to light? One FOIA request caused the State Department to begin publishing emails sent by Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State, after it was revealed that a large number of her business-related emails that were stored on a personal server were deleted." http://www.wsj.com/articles/hillary-clintons-state-department-staff-kept-tight-rein-on-records-1432081701 http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/03/28/hillary-clinton-emails/70583404/ My question is this: Why has the Senate Judiciary Committee been sitting on this bill for over a year after it passed the House?! Date Chamber All Actions 07/07/2015 Senate Received in the Senate and Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Type of Action: Introduction and Referral 06/25/2015-10:58am https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1615/all-actions?overview=closed Perhaps no action is needed because of this report that was submitted by the DHS Chief FOIA Officer in March 2015 to the AG. I don't know. The report is 65 pages long, and I haven't read it yet. But you know what? I don't trust the DHS any more than I trust the DOJ, the EPA, TSA, BLM, FDA, FBI, or any other part of the Obama Administration! Anyway, here's a link to the report: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/FOIA/2016/2015ChiefFOIAOfficerReport.pdf
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    Bureaucracy is often a great obstacle to freedom of information.
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    People have a right to be informed about their government's actions. This bill increases that transparency.
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    We need to understand how government spends our money
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    In light of the certainty of stonewalling of FOIA requests on a wholesale basis by the IRS and VA, the erasure of data sources, and the intransigence of the DOJ in doing its job, we need more than FOIA. We need special prosecutorial jurisdiction with subpoena power authorized by Congress and not voidable by the pooper scooper Attorney General and need to preemptively raid and secure servers on which the subpoenaed material resides.
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    Secrecy in all branches of government is already too extensive leading to corruption and cover up. DHS/TSA blacklists people for no obvious reason and refuses to make corrections ow explanations.
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    FOIA is the law. It's up to DHS to comply. I don't think we need a bill to get them to comply with the law. Perhaps fining the head or employees for causing delays.
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    SCRAP DHS!
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    This department shouldn't exist. I don't see them doing the job they were created to do.
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    What "other" purposes?
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    Transparency is a good thing.
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    Absolutely Yes, Yes, Yes. Transparency is the only way to ensure free and fair government.
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    Critics of this bill are correct, in the without providing more resources for handling request backlog is likely to increase. But it does enable and reinforce the efforts already on going to reduce the backlog
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    Freedom of Information Act should be watched and their need an upgrade for computers so information will be provided faster. Just my opinion
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    You cant ask people to do more with less. We need to provide more resources for handling requests if we want them handled faster.
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    Another venue other than the FOIA would be good.
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    Yes. The public should know as soon as possible what their government is up to.
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    It's the People's House
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