FOIA bill clears Congress


The Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act, or OPEN Government Act, cleared both houses of Congress last week, pushed through by  Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in the Senate and Todd Platts (R-PA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) in the House. RTNDA president Barbara Cochran thanked the legislators for their leadership, and added, "But this isn’t just a victory for journalists; it’s a victory for every single member of the American public. This legislation will eliminate some of the lengthy delays and persistent backlogs in the FOIA process that create obstacles and limit the public’s ability to make informed choices in their communities." Society of Professional Journalists President Clint Brewer also hailed the move, saying, "In a time when First Amendment rights are under attack almost daily in this country, this bill is a major step to ensuring America has a free press and a government that is transparent and open."

RTNDA published a checklist of the bill’s features, which include: * restoring meaningful deadlines for agency action; * 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 an FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies; and * creating an FOIA ombudsman to provide information requestors and federal agencies with a meaningful alternative to costly litigation.