This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) that would have prohibited Homeland Security Department employees appointed by the president from delaying or reversing a decision to comply with a Freedom on Information Act request. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ensures that citizens have access to government records. This amendment was offered to legislation providing annual funding for Homeland Security Department (DHS) programs.
Amash urged support for his amendment: “My amendment prohibits political meddling in the Department's compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, commonly known as FOIA….Countless instances of waste, fraud, and abuse have been exposed by using FOIA. In September 2009, political appointees in DHS implemented an unprecedented policy to review FOIA requests and documents proposed to be released….FOIA is vital to our democracy. It is the most powerful single tool citizens and the press have to discover what our government is doing. And the law has a long track record of exposing corruption and inefficiency to improve government for all Americans. My amendment protects FOIA from politicization at DHS. It prohibits DHS political appointees from improperly blocking the release of FOIA documents. My amendment allows DHS political appointees to continually be aware of FOIA requests in documents proposed to be released, but it prevents the political appointees from interfering with the public's right to know.”
Rep. David Price (D-NC) opposed the amendment: “I think it's [the amendment] a bad idea and perhaps counterproductive. It could lead to the exact opposite of the gentleman's intended result. Let me explain what I mean. In some cases, political review and decision-making will allow the Department to be more proactive in disclosing information to the public. Under this amendment, the head of the agency or another political appointee could not override an arbitrary decision by a bureaucrat to withhold documents that should be released. That bureaucrat could be protecting himself and his colleagues or those documents should be released. There could be a perverse result, I think, if this amendment were adopted….the amendment might prevent the agency from faithfully carrying out its responsibility to comply with FOIA requests. That's because, technically, the agency head is in charge of ensuring the process is completed. If they're taken out of the mix, it really calls into question who's accountable and whether the FOIA process would operate as intended. So we better be careful in treading on this ground. We could have exactly the opposite results from what is intended. And for that reason, I oppose this amendment.”
The House agreed to this amendment by a vote of 257-164. Voting “yea” were 231 Republicans and 26 Democrats. 162 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—voted “nay.” As a result, the House agreed to an amendment that would have prohibited Homeland Security Department employees appointed by the president from delaying or reversing a decision to comply with a Freedom on Information Act request. In order for this amendment to become law, however, it would have to pass the Senate.