Thursday, November 04, 2010

FOIABlog: What Do The Mid-Term Elections Mean For FOIA?

From FOIABlog:
Gazing into the crystal ball, one can see positive and negative fallout from the midterm elections that saw a change in leadership in the House of Representatives.

The positive is that there may be more oversight of the Executive Branch, which will include FOIA Operations. House Leadership may use their new powers to have actual hearings concerning FOIA Operations, especially in those agencies that view the twenty working day time to respond to FOIA requests as a guidepost, not a law. Agencies such as Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ("CMS" a component of the Department of Homeland Security) and FEMA (a component of the Department of Homeland Security) take yearsto respond to simple FOIA requests. The previous House Leadership failed to ask any questions about this practice, of course four years ago, when the new House Leaders were in power, they failed to use their oversight practice on FOIA Operations. However, this time, the President is in an opposition party so they may take the opportunity to tweak his administration for this failure (which started in many cases in the George W. Bush administration or earlier).

On a negative note, many FOIA Operations are clearly underfunded. With a large deficit, no one is going to be in the mood to increase spending for what many consider a discretionary practice (even though I fail to see how informing the public on what its government is doing is discretionary). So, I don't see the budgets of agency FOIA Operations increasing -- those agencies that are swamped will continue to have to get by with less, which is not a good thing for the agencies or requesters.

Finally, I don't see much FOIA legislation taking place. While there are a number of things that could be fixed in the current FOIA law, I don't foresee them taking place during the upcoming Congress. For instance, the current discretionary disclosure standard could, and should be put in the actual FOIA. However, the administration will say it is our policy (albeit without any statutory authority to get judicial review of whether an agency reviewed the documents for this purpose--it is my belief that many do not) and the new House Leadership, eyeing the White House in 2012 will want to preserve its next President's FOIA options--no matter what they say about their belief in transparency.

The most important FOIA venue in the next few months will be the Supreme Court, where a number of FOIA issues are pending, such as whether corporations have privacy under the FOIA's privacy exemptions (such as Exemption 7(C)). I believe Congress will react to these decisions rather than proactively moot those disputes.

What do the FOIA blog's readers think the new Congress will do?