Editor's Note

The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Help us move the FOI reforms...

URGENT: CALL YOUR SENATOR TO GET A VOTE ON THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REFORM BILL NOW

Let your senators know you want a Senate vote on the OPEN Government Act (S.849) before the August recess. We need to strengthen FOIA to hold our government accountable, especially now when our civil liberties are under assault and when Administration officials seem to value secrecy above openness

Background:

The Senate is being stopped dead from voting on a bill that would strengthen our right to obtain information from the federal government. The Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2007 – the OPEN Government Act (S.849) would make common-sense reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the law giving John Q. Public the right to obtain government records to make sure our government is acting in the public interest. Time and again information released under FOIA has proven invaluable in discovering government abuses, waste and corruption.

But that doesn’t matter to the Senator blocking the bill (S. 849) – Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the same Senator who first put a secret hold on the bill until uncovered. Kyl admits FOIA has been successful in exposing government abuses, and agrees that after 40 years on the books FOIA needs to be modernized so that requests no longer languish for months, years or even decades.

So, why is Kyl continuing to block the bill? He is dutifully carrying water for Alberto Gonzales’s Department of Justice (DOJ) – that’s why. Gonzales objects to the bill’s provision requiring agencies to pay the attorney fees of individual requesters when requesters are forced to go to court to get agencies to comply with FOIA. But without that provision, there would be no incentive for agencies to release documents before a court orders them to and every incentive to use delay as a tactic to make it costly for the public to use FOIA. Gonzales also is against expanding the right of the new media to use FOIA.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) proposed the OPEN Government Act of 2007 (S. 849). The bill aims to solve some of the FOIA's persistent problems by:

* Creating a tracking system for FOIA requests so they are not lost, forgotten and ignored;
* Clarifying the time limits for agency responses;
* Authorizing the recovery of reasonable attorneys fees for requesters who prevail in FOIA litigation, including when a government agency releases records in response to a lawsuit before a judge rules on the case;
* Requiring reports to Congress on how agencies handle FOIA requests; and
* Creating a FOIA ombudsman to help resolve disputes between members of the public and agencies without litigation.
The bill has strong bipartisan support. The United States House of Representatives passed a similar bill by an overwhelming majority vote (308-117) in March 2007, which included 80 Republican members of Congress.

TAKE ACTION

Call your Senators today and ask them to co-sponsor S. 849 and to let Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senate Minority Leader McConnell know that they want this good government legislation to move forward to passage – before they leave for the August recess – to ensure that the Freedom of Information Act works for the benefit of the American people.

If they have questions about the legislation, please ask them to call Meredith Fuchs at the National Security Archive, 202-994-7059 or Patrice McDermott at OpenTheGovernment.org, 202 332-6736. Or they can call me, at 573-882-5736.

To be connected directly to your Senators’ offices, you may phone the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Or check your Senators’ web pages at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm for their district office numbers.

Thanks for your help!

2 comments:

Hill said...

One of my friends sent me here because this subject is near & dear to this old reporter's heart.

Thank you for highlighting it.

Charles Davis said...

Glad to see someone on here not related to me :)