FOIA Reform: Accountability AND Efficiency

By August 7, 2007Media Relations

In a June 21st letter to the U.S. Senate, NAM President John Engler highlighted the importance of the federal Freedom of Information Act to business. That’s right: FOIA is not just a tool of truth-seeking journalists, but also of companies pursuing needed, public information.

The NAM appreciates that FOIA allows its members to obtain information that should be publicly available, even as it protects the release of information that is truly confidential and proprietary. Far too often, businesses need to resort to the FOIA process for a variety of reasons, including complying fully with federal laws and regulations, obtaining information needed for an investigation or a legal proceeding and understanding the reasoning behind agency decisions.

But the FOIA process is often made unnecessarily complex, or more often, subject to capricious interpretation by agencies, so the NAM and many other groups are supporting changes to streamline FOIA and make it more transparent.

The vehicle is S. 849, the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2007 or the OPEN Government Act of 2007, sponsored by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX). Sen. Cornyn made the case in an op-ed, and Sen. Leahy highlighted the key points in a statement. The bill’s goals?

  • Restoring meaningful deadlines for agency action under FOIA;
  • Imposing real consequences on federal agencies for missing FOIA’s 20-day statutory deadline;
  • Clarifying that FOIA applies to government records held by outside private contractors;
  • Establishing a FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies; and
  • Creating a FOIA Ombudsman to provide FOIA requestors and federal agencies with a meaningful alternative to costly litigation.
  • We’re pleased to report that S. 849 unamiously passed the Senate last Friday and is now on its way to the House. (AP story here.) Congratulations, and let’s make sure to move expeditiously in the House.

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