Govt. Open Records Law Finally Strengthened
In one of his final decisions of 2007, President George W. Bush signed a much-needed bill that will help curb the sort of government secrecy that has become a staple of his administration.
Overwhelmingly passed by both houses of Congress, the new law will give the public and the media greater access to information about what the government is doing. It will also toughen the federal public-access law known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the first time in a decade.
The Open Government Act of 2007 requires federal government agencies to meet a 20-day deadline for responding to FOIA requests and restores a pre September 2001 order that agencies release information on requests unless there is a finding that disclosure could harm national security.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft essentially instructed all government agencies to stop releasing information to the public and the media after the 9/11 attacks and the new law aims to finally reverse that blanket order that simply didn’t apply to many requests.
The new measure will also create a system for the public and the media to track the status of their FOIA requests and establish a hot line service for all federal government agencies to deal with problems as well as an ombudsman to provide an alternative to litigation in disclosure disputes.
Judicial Watch regularly uses public records laws to obtain information from the government but often meets resistance and is forced to take legal action. Examples include lawsuits to obtain Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force documents, U.S. Border Patrol records of apprehended illegal aliens, Hillary Clinton’s health care reform task force and various police departments’ policies regarding illegal immigrants.