THE FIRST significant reform in more than a decade of the federal Freedom of Information Act, signed into law last week by President Bush, is an important step forward for open government and the ability of citizens to hold government representatives accountable for their actions.By improving the process by which the federal government carries out the requirements of the act, the law should correct a tendency to delay action on requests for public information. At the same time, by broadening the definition of who is a journalist, the new law improves accessibility for bloggers and other non-traditional journalists at a time when technology is changing media.
The Open Government Act of 2007 improves FOIA by creating an independent ombudsman to resolve citizen disputes, creating a system for the public to easily track the status of requests and allowing those making requests to more effectively recover legal costs incurred when federal agencies improperly deny requests. It also broadens the scope of information that can be requested.
“The Open Government Act will help to reverse the troubling trends of excessive delays and lax FOIA compliance in our government and help to restore the public’s trust in their government,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who sponsored the bipartisan legislation with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
No doubt, some bureaucrats will continue to try to deny the public access to information. But our hope is that such foot-dragging just became much more difficult.