NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · WASHINGTON, D.C. · Freedom of Information · March 6, 2007
FOIA 2007 bill off to a fast start
March 6, 2007 · In less than 24 hours, a new bill to reform the Freedom of Information Act went from introduction on the House floor to unanimous approval by a House subcommittee, paving the way for a possible vote on the bill in front of the full House as early as next week.
The bill is co-sponsored by House Democrats Lacy Clay (Mo.) and Henry Waxman (Calif.) and by Republican Todd Platts (Pa.). It aims to streamline the Freedom of Information Act in order to allow for the “transparency and accountability that citizens deserve in government,” said Clay, chairman of the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives, during the panel’s meeting this afternoon.
Similar to the OPEN Government Act of 2005, the new bill would implement a tracking system for individual public records requests, increase FOIA reporting requirements for federal agencies and create a federal ombudsman to help mediate records disputes between requesters and government agencies. The bill also includes a provision that would prohibit agencies for charging any fees if an agency fails to respond to a request within the 20-day period provided by FOIA.
Clay called the bill a “practical and measured approach” to concerns about the lack of compliance with FOIA by federal government agencies.
Ranking subcommittee member Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said he was troubled by the bill’s provisions allowing easier access to attorney fees for prevailing plaintiffs and repealing the controversial memo issued in 2002 by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft that gives great deference to agencies denying discretionary public records disclosures. Still, Turner said he was in favor of the overall effort for greater government accountability through open records and voted to approve the bill as it was introduced.
The bill was unanimously approved by the subcommittee today and will now be favorably reported to the full Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for discussion Thursday. If the bill is approved by the full committee, it could be passed on for a vote on the floor of the House sometime next week.
A vote next week would coincide with the national observance of Sunshine Week, promoting transparency in government through open meeting and public records laws.
(H.R. 1309, Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007) — LC