House backs bill to update Freedom of Information law as report faults Obama administration

From US News and World Report The House approved legislation Monday making it easier to obtain government records, as a new congressional report concluded that the freedom of information process under the Obama administration is broken and in need of serious change.

The bill, approved by a voice vote, would require government agencies to make information available to the public online. It also would require agencies to adopt a presumption in favor of disclosing records rather than keeping them secret.

The vote came as Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a report asserting that the freedom of information law, enacted 50 years ago, is plagued by a number of problems, including a lack of communication from federal agencies, unreasonable redactions and abusive fees.

Backlogs of Freedom of Information Act requests have more than doubled since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the report said, and agencies are sitting on thousands of unfulfilled document requests.

"When President Obama took office he promised an 'unprecedented level of openness in government.' This report demonstrates that is not the case," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight panel.

Instead of the promised openness and transparency, "this administration is playing a game of hide the document from the American people," Chaffetz said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the oversight panel, called the GOP report unfair and said committee members were not given a chance to vote on it.

"There is no doubt that the FOIA process can and must be improved," Cummings said, "but issuing this erroneous, incomplete and highly partisan staff report will not help these goals."

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