Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)– Americans will have a great new gift in their Christmas stockings — a federal Freedom of Information Act that works.
National Newspaper Association President Steve Haynes, publisher of the Oberlin (KS) Herald, announced today that passage of S. 2488, the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2007, arrived right in time for the holidays.
The new law:
- Creates a long-sought federal ombudsman office.
- Improves the ability of people making information requests to be reimbursed for legal fees when they have to sue.
- Sets up tracking numbers for FOIA requests so people will know the status of their information.
- Limits fees agencies may charge when time limits for a response are not met.
- Requires agencies to explain which exemptions to disclosure are being used to justify deletions from records
The Act also requires reports to Congress that will help oversight committees judge the effectiveness of executive branch performance.
The Freedom of Information Act was first passed by Congress in 1966 to strengthen an early, but weak, provision in the law requiring federal agencies to release records to the public. Major amendments have occurred roughly every decade, and the most recent overhaul was in 1996.
NNA worked with nine other media organizations through the Sunshine in Government Initiative to pursue the passage of the new law over nearly four years, through the past two Congresses.
Haynes said the progress was attributed to hard work by the initial sponsors of the bill, Sens. John Cornyn, R-TX, and Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and later support by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ. Shaping improvements in the bill resulted from the diligence of House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-CA, and Ranking Member Tom Davis, R-VA, and was moved through the committee by Reps. William Lacy Clay, D-MO, and Todd Platts, R-PA.
The NNA president also thanked members of the NNA Congressional Action Team, which carried the case for change to Congress during the association’s Government Affairs Conference in Washington the last three years. NNA members explained that while community newspapers are not heavy users of the law, partially because of its slow and unreliable operation, improvements would make the law more useful. The act also sets the tone for openness in state government, and the changes make the federal law a beacon for accountability, Haynes said.
He urged President Bush to sign the law when it reaches his desk.
“This is a good-government bill,” Haynes said. “It demonstrates that transparency is not a partisan issue. Getting the OPEN Government law on the books is a great way to kick off 2008.”