We are on the cusp of possibly seeing significant improvement to the Freedom of Information Act. On Friday, the Senate passed S. 2488, a revised version of the OPEN Government Act that included portions of the House’s own FOIA reform bill passed back in March.
On Tuesday, the House took 2488 and passed it by voice vote without opposition. Now it goes to the president’s desk for his signature with the full weight of Congress behind it. There are plenty of improvements still to be made in the FOIA process, but opportunities for some much needed change are in this bill, including:
Easier recovery of attorney’s fees when requesters are forced to file suit to get records;
The creation of a national FOIA ombudsman to mediate disputes between information requesters and government agencies;
A tracking system for individual information requests, and;
Penalties for agencies that fail to follow FOIA deadlines
These are lofty goals, and healthy skepticism naturally follows. But if lawmakers keep their promises to continue FOIA reform with more legislation to come and if appropriations follow as well, this could be a particularly sunny day for open government.