It’s official: FOIA reform is no longer just wishful thinking, but a reality after President Bush signed the OPEN Government Act of 2007 into law on New Year’s Eve, adding his signature to a bill that passed without opposition in Congress.
While the Department of Justice and the Bush administration in general had opposed many of the bill’s provisions — which strengthen the FOIA process by making it easier to get attorney fees if an agency inappropriately denies FOIA requests, among other changes — Bush almost certainly faced an override of a prospective veto. After the Senate easily passed the bill earlier last month, the House passed it by voice vote without opposition.
While the reforms addressed several issues important to journalists and other open government advocates, the so-called "Ashcroft Memo," which had asserted a new policy against the presumption of agency records disclosure, was not reversed — contrary to a recent report within an Associated Press story about President Bush’s signing of the bill. Attempts at including a policy reversal on that issue were, quite unfortunately, negotiated out of the bill as the process progressed.
So, on the Ashcroft issue and others, there’s still work to be done — and yet, there is a well-deserved feeling of relief and accomplishment for those who worked so hard to pass these profoundly important reforms. With the president’s signature on the last day of 2007, open government undoubtedly scored a win.