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senate Bill S. 337

Do Federal Agencies Need to be More Open When Handling Public Records Requests?

Argument in favor

Federal agencies shouldn’t try to stonewall requests for public records, and this bill would ensure that they don’t by requiring requests to be granted unless the information is covered by an exemption.

operaman's Opinion
Of course our Federal Government should be open to public inspection unless there is something to hide from the public. I keep hearing about "most transparent Obama administration." In retrospect, maybe that's why his administration has stonewalled public requests for years. Looks very suspect, doesn't it!
Like (6)
Leo's Opinion
Timely production of records is more effective in fighting corruption.
Like (2)
GrumpyMSgt's Opinion
Yes! And let's start with the 28 pages redacted from the 9/11 Commission Report.
Like (2)

Argument opposed

The government already spends significant time and resources complying with Freedom of Information Act requests, and this bill increases that burden without providing additional funding.

B.R.'s Opinion
Before spending $20 million dollars on this bill, I think that it needs to be made clear on what the real issue is. Is it that the Federal agencies are stonewalling requests or is it their inability to keep up with the requests? Two very different issues with two very different solutions.
Like (1)
Anthony's Opinion
I am not a snoopy dog I am sure public records are available let this fish go for now
D.'s Opinion
The law already provides for access absent an exemption.

What is Senate Bill S. 337?

This bill would make a number of reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that would require federal agencies to provide easier access to information requested by the public. Federal agencies would be required to make disclosable records and documents available to the public in an electronic format if they’re requested three or more times.

Federal agencies would be prohibited from charging a fee for providing records if they miss a deadline for compliance unless there’s unusual circumstances or the record request is for more than 5,000 pages. Information requested under FOIA would have to be provided unless there’s a specific exemption covering that information, or if a disclosure would be illegal.

The program for the efficient management of federal agency records would be expanded to require agency heads to establish procedures for:

  • Identifying records of general interest or use to the public that are appropriate for disclosure;

  • Posting such records in a publicly-accessible electronic format.

The head of each U.S. government agency would be required to:

  • Review existing agency regulations and procedures for disclosing records;

  • Include procedures for dispute resolutions through the FOIA Public Liaison and Office of Government Information Systems.

No new funding would be authorized by this legislation, which would go into effect immediately upon its enactment and would apply to all FOIA requests made after that date.


Citizens who file FOIA requests; and federal agencies.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 337

$20.00 Million
The CBO estimates that implementing this bill would cost $20 million over the 2015-2020 period.

More Information

In-Depth: Sponsoring Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced this bill to require federal agencies to approach public records requests with a “presumption of openness” and to reduce the overuse of exemptions to withhold information:

“An open and transparent government is paramount to a healthy democracy, and today’s vote sends a clear message that the American people have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing. This legislation will update and strengthen existing law to ensure the American people can better access information from their government…”

This legislation was passed by the Senate through unanimous consent on March 15, 2016.

Of Note: There are currently nine exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act which can be granted if the information:

  • Is properly classified by an executive order in the interest of national defense or foreign policy;

  • Is related to internal personnel rules and practices within an agency;

  • Is specifically exempted from disclosure by law;

  • Involves trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential;

  • Inter-agency or intra-agency memos or letters which wouldn’t be available by law to any entity not involved in legal action against the agency;

  • Relates to personnel and medical files that would clearly be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;

  • Are law enforcement records or information that may interfere with enforcement activities or investigations, deprive a person of a fair trial, disclose a confidential source, be interpreted as an invasion of privacy, or endanger the life or safety of any person;

  • Is contained in reports related to an agency’s regulation or supervision of financial institutions;

  • Is geological or geophysical information and data related to wells, including maps.

The number of FOIA requests received annually has increased from over 597,000 in fiscal year 2010 to more than 713,000 in fiscal year 2015. In that period, the backlog of requests grew by 33,303 to a total of 102,828.


Summary by Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Flickr user brownpau)


FOIA Improvement Act of 2016

Official Title

A bill to improve the Freedom of Information Act.

bill Progress

  • EnactedJune 30th, 2016
    The President signed this bill into law
  • The house Passed June 13th, 2016
    Passed by Voice Vote
  • The senate Passed March 15th, 2016
    Passed by Voice Vote
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedFebruary 2nd, 2015

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