Lawmakers’ latest FOIA reform effort would strengthen governmentwide ombudsman

When Congress last updated federal open government laws in 2007, it created a new ombudsman intended to serve as an honest broker between Freedom of Information Act requestors and agencies. But unlike most other ombudsmen, this one works for one of the parties in the disputes it's supposed to mediate. Pending legislation would change that by making the Office of Government Information services (OGIS) truly independent from the executive branch.

The proposed change is part of a large package of updated FOIA reforms Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) introduced earlier this month. The lawmakers' goal is to revive and update legislation that passed both houses of Congress last year but finally died in December because the chambers couldn't work out their differences.

This year's version, similar to the previous one, would create a "presumption of openness," placing the burden on agencies to prove that FOIA requests should be denied. Among its other provisions, the bill also would raise the profile of OGIS, which already is in charge of mediating FOIA disputes and making recommendations to Congress to improve the FOIA process. But as of now, OGIS is housed within the National Archives and Records Administration, and like the rest of the executive branch, ultimately reports to the White House. Continue>>>