Secrecy News

Congress Approves FOIA Reform Bill

Open government advocates hailed the passage of procedural amendments to the Freedom of Information Act that are intended to improve government responsiveness to FOIA requests and to strengthen the hand of requesters.

The OPEN Government Act, which cleared both the Senate and the House over the past week, “becomes the first major reform to the Freedom of Information Act in more than a decade,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the bill’s leading co-sponsor in the Senate along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) led passage in the House.

Among other things, Senator Leahy explained, “This legislation will improve transparency in the Federal Government’s FOIA process by: restoring meaningful deadlines for agency action under FOIA; imposing real consequences on Federal agencies for missing FOIA’s 20-day statutory deadline; clarifying that FOIA applies to government records held by outside private contractors; establishing a FOIA hotline service for all Federal agencies; and creating a FOIA Ombudsman to provide FOIA requestors and Federal agencies with a meaningful alternative to costly litigation.”

For all of its procedural virtues, the OPEN Government Act does not touch the root of government secrecy, namely the decision to withhold information. The Act does not repeal or modify any of the more than one hundred statutory exemptions from disclosure under the FOIA. And it does not address the proper scope or application of the classification system. That is a task for another day.

Coincidentally, the Department of Defense this week issued a proposed new FOIA regulation for public comment. It will presumably have to be revised again to be made consistent with the new Open Government Act.

0 thoughts on “Congress Approves FOIA Reform Bill

  1. This is great news for America and will end government agencies ability to hide from the public. At the Thomas Jackson Centers we have our fingers crossed that the President will sign this bill into law under his own signature. His name on the law would be an open endorsement that Open Government is good government. Without his name, the bill will ride out the congressional recess and become law absent the Presidents signature. The new law will also go a long way in answering the question “Are bloggers journalists?” Good question and here is my answer. I am one of three bloggers (correspondents, writers, etc.) on the three blogs of the Thomas Jackson Center. If you visit our site, you’ll see that ClustrMaps has tracked visitors from all over the world who read our blogs. The government may not like to call us journalist even though bloggers have broken some of the biggest stories in recent history. But and the Big But is – that blogs often have more readers than small town newspapers.

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