In July of 1966, the Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. This landmark bill expanded access to public records and paved the way for greater accountability in government activities. FOIA has seen many changes in the last 50 years, especially in the wake of the Watergate scandal and the 9/11 attacks. The digital age introduced additional considerations and changed the law substantially, and on June 30, 2016, the law was revised yet again when President Obama signed the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. In addition to open records reform, the Obama administration announced several other initiatives including the creation of a consolidated request portal for all FOIA requests, and the development of a Chief FOIA Officers Council to chart a course for FOIA’s future. Please visit the Law Library Events page for more information and links to additional resources about this historic legislation.
Throughout the month of July, the Harris County Law Library is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA, the landmark bill that expanded access to public records and paved the way for greater accountability in government affairs. On June 30th, President Obama signed the FOIA Improvement Act, which, among other revisions, stipulates the creation of a single online portal for all FOIA requests. This use of technology to improve government transparency will simplify and expedite the request submission process.
Another way that technology is being used to improve open access to government information is via the e-CFR website. The e-CFR is a daily updated version of the Code of Federal Regulations. It is an unofficial editorial compilation of CFR material and Federal Register amendments. The User Information Page advises those who access the site to verify the accuracy of the content using the CFR, Federal Register, and the List of CFR Sections Affected (LSA).
The e-CFR is just one example of how the government provides information to the public. Another useful resource is the Federal Digital System or FDsys.gov where Congressional Documents, Hearings, Records, and Reports, as well as the United States Code, are available. Federal Court Opinions from select Courts can also be found here, along with a wealth of additional government documents from the Federal Budget to the United States Statutes at Large. The full collection of available records and can be viewed here.
The Library of Congress is also a rich resource for government documents, including the Federal Register, dating back to 1936. Published every business day, the Federal Register contains executive orders and proclamations, along with public notices and proposed rules issued by federal agencies.
When FOIA was signed in 1966, accessing public information was quite a different process. FOIA has seen many changes in the last 50 years, with substantial revisions due to the advance of technology. Thanks to online publishing and interactivity, as well as the development of authentication technology, the availability of accurate, up-to-date government documents is much greater, allowing the public to be better informed.