Reversing FOIA Reforms a Step Backwards

By February 12, 2008Media Relations

President Bush’s FY09 budget proposal undermines a key provision of S. 2488, the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National (OPEN) Government Act, which the President signed into law less than two months ago. The National Association of Manufacturers supported the bill (and its predecessor, S. 849, of which the NAM wrote a letter of support to Congress), believing its provisions to expedite Freedom of Information Act requests would serve information-seeking companies and the public well.

The bill created a formal FOIA ombudsman in the National Archives, a position which the President’s budget proposes to move to the Department of Justice. A Cox Newspapers blog, The Secrecy File, notes the consternation this move has caused among what reporter Rebecca Car calls the “open government community.”

The Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of ten media groups dedicated to open government issues, wrote to lawmakers today objecting to the action.

“Asking the Justice Department to perform the responsibilities creates an inherent conflict of interest,” the letter to lawmakers states. “We encourage the Congress to fully fund the Office of Government Information Services within the National Archives. This reflects the plain language of the statute and intent of Congress in passing the OPEN Government Act. The money should follow the law.”

“For the first time, Congress created an independent ombudsman in the federal government to help the public,” said Rick Blum, coordinator of SGI. “Why quit the experiment after only 35 days?”

And THAT is a very good question, even if the activists oversell the importance of the ombudsman in relation to the rest of the bill.

Also expressing their opposition to the budget move are the original sponsors of the bill, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). They sent a joint letter to OMB Director Jim Nussle.

All in all, a curious and unproductive move, one not likely to withstand the budget process.

(A pet peeve: The “open government community?” What community? Any group that includes such disparate characters as Rep. Jim McDermott [NAM 109th Congress voting record — 4 percent], the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, and the NAM is most definitely not a community. We simply share similar views on a single issue.)

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