House Oversight can do good with FOIA investigation--but will it?

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House Oversight and Government Reform, so often a partisan-dominated machine primarily intent on churning out accusatory press releases, has the opportunity to do real good with a new investigation into federal Freedom of Information of Information Act practices.

Stirred by a December 2012 review by the National Security Archive at George Washington University of 99 agency FOIA regulations that found that most have not updated their FOIA regulations to comply with updates requiring greater openness--some not since 2003--the committee sent Justice Department Office of Information Policy head Melanie Pustay a letter (.pdf) this past Feb. 4.

The letter, signed by Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), asks Pustay important questions, such as whether OIP has issued instructions to other agencies to update their regulations, and "if not, why not?"

The fact of un-updated regulations might seem banal, but as Nate Jones, the archive's FOIA coordinator, recently noted, those regulations guide how agency FOIA shops handle FOIA requests. Agencies hew to outdated regulations even when in doing so they plainly go against more recent law or policy. What's more, OIP--which has governmentwide FOIA policy responsibilities--has supported them "to the bitter end," Jones said.

So the need for an investigation is real and apparent. The question now is whether House Oversight and Government Reform will handle it in a manner that causes change, or whether the investigation will be an excuse to haul up Pustay in order to sputter angrily at her. - Dave