NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · WASHINGTON, D.C. · Freedom of Information · Sep. 21, 2006
Senate committee gives OK to FOIA reforms
Sep. 21, 2006 · The Senate Judiciary Committee today unanimously approved a bill that would mark the first significant change in the Freedom of Information Act in a decade.
If it passes the full Senate, the bill would allow FOIA requesters to track their requests by phone or on the Internet.
The bill would create a “FOIA ombudsman” who would review the compliance of agencies and hear disputes over requests. If those disputes end up in court, the law would also make it easier to recover attorney fees from government agencies.
The bill contains several proposed enforcement measures designed to close loopholes in the current law.
The Office of Special Counsel – an independent federal investigator and prosecutor – would be empowered to take disciplinary action against government officials who arbitrarily deny disclosure. The bill would also strengthen reporting requirements on FOIA compliance, a measure designed to identify government agencies plagued by excessive delays in complying with FOIA requests.
“This bill advances one of the most fundamental rights of Americans, the public’s right to know what its government is doing,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the bill’s co-sponsor, said in a press release.
Concerns over delays in processing FOIA requests prompted the committee’s consideration of the bill, called The Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National (OPEN) Government Act of 2005. It is unclear whether it will be taken up by the full Senate this year.
(The Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2005) — NW