Legislative History

Provided by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
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Originally signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, FOIA became effective in 1967 and has been amended several times since then, most recently in June of 2016.

1966 Enactment: the Freedom of Information Act

Act of July 4, 1966, Public Law 89-487, 80 STAT 250, which Amended Section 3 of the Administrative Procedure Act, Chapter 324, of the Act of June 11, 1946, to Clarify and Protect the Right of the Public to Informationl

The FOIA was enacted in 1966 despite the opposition of President Johnson to the legislation. Prior to enactment, there were several years of congressional hearings about the need for a disclosure law. The FOIA went into effect in 1967. See the National Security Archive for more details.

1974 Amendments

In the wake of the Watergate scandal and several court decisions, Congress sought to amend the FOIA. After negotiations between Congress and the Ford Administration broke down, Congress passed significant amendments to the FOIA. President Ford vetoed the amendments and Congress swiftly voted to override the veto. To learn more about the 1974 Amendments to the FOIA, click here.

Primary Source Documents

1976 Amendments: Government in Sunshine Act

In 1976, as part of the Government in Sunshine Act, Exemption 3 of the FOIA was amended. Click here for more details.

1986 Amendments: Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act

In 1986 Congress amended FOIA to address the fees charged by different categories of requesters and the scope of access to law enforcement and national security records. The FOIA amendments were a small part of the bipartisan Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. The amendments are not referenced in the congressional reports on the Act, so the floor statements provide an indication of Congressional intent. Click here for more information.

1996 Amendments

The FOIA was significantly amended in 1996 with the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996. There were separate Senate and House bills that were reconciled by their sponsors. The public law includes a "Findings and Purposes" section that was not codified into the FOIA's text. Click here for more information.

2002 Amendments: Intelligence Authorization Act

In 2002, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the FOIA was amended to limit the ability of foreign agents to request records from U.S. intelligence agencies.

2007 Amendments: Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National (OPEN) Government Act

The FOIA was amended in 2007 with the OPEN Government Act of 2007, was passed unanimously by both the House and the Senate in December. The new law aimed to fix some of the most persistent problems in the FOIA system, including excessive delay, lack of responsiveness, and litigation gamesmanship by federal agencies.

2016 Amendments: FOIA Improvement Act of 2016

In June 2016, President Obama signed the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.[1]

Two of the law’s biggest changes impose new limits on FOIA’s exemptions.

  • First, the “foreseeable harm” standard has been codified into law. This means that even if a record requested by a journalist falls within one of FOIA’s nine exemptions, the agency still has to release it unless either (1) it reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption, or (2) disclosure is prohibited by law. The legislative history of the 2016 amendments makes clear that agencies must determine whether the release of “particular documents” will cause foreseeable harm, not simply generic categories of records.[2].
  • Second, the amendments imposed a 25-year sunset on the deliberative process privilege, which is part of Exemption 5.

The Act requires agencies to proactively post records that have been requested three or more times in an electronic format online.

Other provisions of the Improvement Act of 2016 strengthened OGIS, created the Chief FOIA Officers Council, and required the creation of a consolidated online request portal.[3]

The changes made by the 2016 Act apply to requests made after the date of its enactment.[4]

External Links


  1. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/337/text
  2. https://www.congress.gov/congressional-record/2016/03/15/senate-section/article/S1494-1 legislative history
  3. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/337/text
  4. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/337/text (stating "This Act, and the amendments made by this Act, shall take effect on the date of enactment of this Act and shall apply to any request for records under section 552 of title 5, United States Code, made after the date of enactment of this Act.")