FOIA Update: FOIA Reform Effort Stalls in House

January 1, 1984
FOIA Update
Vol. V, No. 4

FOIA Reform Effort Stalls in House

Despite the FOIA reform efforts of the Senate, the 98th Congress adjourned in early October without achieving enactment of broad FOIA reform legislation.

Although both Houses of Congress reached agreement on a special new FOIA. relief statute for the CIA (see story below), the House failed to complete its consideration of S. 774, the comprehensive package of FOIA reform amendments supported by the Administration. (For descriptions of S. 774, see the Summer 1983 issue of FOIA Update, at pp. 1-2, and the Winter 1984 issue of FOIA Update, at p. 6.)

S. 774 was unanimously passed by the Senate on February 27 of this year, after a lengthy process of review and refinement within the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, where it was jointly crafted by Senators Orrin Hatch (R. Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D. Vt.).

In the House, however, S. 774 fell within the jurisdiction of the Government Information, Justice and Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Government Operations Committee, which is chaired by Cong. Glenn English (D. Okla.), and where it received a less favorable reception.

After awaiting full Senate passage of a FOIA reform bill, Chairman English decided to hold hearings on S. 774 that extended far into the legislative session. See FOIA Update, Summer 1984, at 1, 4. Although his subcommittee staff thereafter made an attempt to reach some agreement on a viable version of S. 774 during the closing days of the Congress, it was ultimately recognized by all concerned that the process could not be brought to such a conclusion in the time remaining.

Consequently, comprehensive FOIA reform legislation will have to be reintroduced in the upcoming 99th Congress, at which point the legislative process will commence again. Senators Hatch and Leahy are expected to reintroduce S. 774 in the Senate early next year. For his part, Chairman English has formally demonstrated his dissatisfaction with many of S. 774's provisions, but has also indicated a willingness to achieve some substantial FOIA reform.

Particularly significant in this regard is the continued pressure of the business community for substantial improvements in the treatment of business data under the FOIA. Most important to the Administration, but not yet accepted by Chairman English, are S. 774's proposed new fees provisions and the categorical protection of organized crime files, among other provisions.

As the 99th Congress opens in January, such provisions should be the subject of extensive discussions among representatives of all groups interested in the content of a final bill, including the Justice Department, business groups, and various media and public interest organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Newspaper Publishers Association.


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