Date: March 26, 2007
House Passes H.R. 1309,
the Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007
On March 14, 2007 the House passed H.R. 1309, the Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007, by a vote of 308 to 117. The legislation would impact public disclosure of government information pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Any member of the public may use FOIA to request access to government information, including information from SSA.
Among other things, the House-passed bill would:
• Require Federal agencies, including SSA, to consider additional factors when determining whether a FOIA requestor is a member of the news media, and therefore eligible for a waiver of fees for document search and review. Agencies would be required to consider prior publication history of the requester, including books, articles, newsletters, television and radio broadcasts, and Internet publications. If the requester has no prior publication history or current affiliation, the agency would be required to consider the requester's stated intent to distribute information to a reasonably broad audience and to grant a fee waiver in those circumstances.
• Expand the definition of “substantially prevail”, for the purpose of the recovery of attorney fees and other litigation costs from Federal agencies (including SSA) against which a claim or judgment has been rendered. “Substantially prevail” would include, in addition to situations in which the claimant has obtained relief from the agency through voluntary or enforceable decisions or orders, those situations in which the claimant has obtained relief from the agency through voluntary or unilateral changes in position by the agency.
• Strengthen provisions in current law that authorize disciplinary action against government officials who deny records to FOIA requesters, by directing the Attorney General to:
• Notify the Special Counsel of civil actions taken for certain rejections of requests for agency records;
• Annually submit reports to Congress on the number of these actions taken; and
• Require the Special Counsel to submit annual reports to Congress on the actions taken by the Special Counsel regarding these civil actions.
• Require that the 20-day statutory time limit for responding to requestors with regard to a determination of whether the agency will comply with such request to begin immediately upon agency receipt of the FOIA request. Agencies would be prohibited from charging requester fees for document search, duplication, or review if the agency fails to comply with the 20-day deadline for responding to that request with a determination of action. This provision would apply only to FOIA requests filed on or after the effective date of this amendment.
• Require each Federal agency (including SSA) to assign a tracking number and to notify the requester of such tracking number for each FOIA request within 10 days after receiving such request.
• Require Federal agencies (including SSA) to establish a telephone line or Internet service that provides information about the status of requests, including the date on which the agency received the request and an estimated date on which the agency will complete action on the request. This provision would take effect one year after the date of enactment and would apply only to FOIA requests filed on or after that effective date.
• Prohibit Congress from creating new statutory exemptions under FOIA unless it does so explicitly by requiring new statutory exemptions to specifically cite section 552(b) of the FOIA.
• For purposes of the annual FOIA compliance reports, require Federal agencies (including SSA) to provide additional information about timeframes for responding to requests with a determination, including:
• The number of requests that the agency has responded to within the required 20 days;
• Information about the timeframes for providing granted information to requesters;
• Data regarding agency responsiveness to administrative appeals;
• Data on the 10 active requests with the earliest filing dates pending at the agency;
• Data on the 10 active administrative appeals with the earliest filing dates pending at the agency;
• Data regarding agency responsiveness to expedited review requests; and
• Data regarding agency grants of fee waivers.
• Codify the Federal government's policy to release information to the public in response to a FOIA request if:
• Such release is required by law; or
• Such release is allowed by law and the agency concerned does not reasonably foresee that disclosure would be harmful to an interest protected by an applicable exemption.
In situations where FOIA requested material is exempt from disclosure, in addition to identifying where such material has been deleted from the response to the request, require Federal agencies to cite the statutory authority used to delete such material.