Freedom of Information Reform Bill Passes Senate
Government Advocates Overcome Secret Hold;
Reforms Fix Delay Problems Identified by Archive Audits;
Tracking, Reporting, Processing Fees and Ombuds Office
more information contact:
Thomas Blanton/Kristin Adair: 202/994-7000
DC, August 4, 2007 -
The United States Senate yesterday joined
the House in passing bipartisan legislation that will fix
several of the most glaring problems with the U.S. Freedom of
Information Act that were identified in six government-wide
audits of FOIA practice carried out by the National Security
Archive. The legislation, authored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.), overcame a hold placed by Sen.
Jon Kyl (R-Az) on behalf of Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department.
It passed late
Friday evening by unanimous consent, on the last day of
the Congressional session before the August recess.
After a conference to reconcile provisions between the House
and Senate versions, the new law will mandate tracking numbers
for FOIA requests that take longer than 10 days to process so
they will no longer fall through the cracks, require agencies
to report more accurately to Congress on their FOIA programs,
create a new ombuds office at the National Archives to mediate
conflicts between agencies and requesters, clarify the purpose
of FOIA to encourage dissemination of government information,
and provide incentives to agencies to avoid litigation and processing
"These are commonsense reforms that will finally force
agencies to fix egregious backlogs and reporting problems,"
said Archive staff counsel Kristin Adair. "But, remarkably,
it took several congressional terms to get these straightforward
adjustments into the law, with obstruction from the executive
branch all along the way, including, ironically, a secret hold
by a Senator acting at the behest of the Department of Justice."
Similar legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives
overwhelmingly during Sunshine Week in March 2007, but progress
on the Senate bill has been halted for months by a hold placed
by Sen. Kyl on behalf of the Justice Department. After multiple
editorials, including several in Sen. Kyl's homestate Arizona
Republic, assailed Kyl's position and nicknamed him "the
Secrecy Senator," Kyl's staff negotiated
new compromise language and allowed the bill to reach the
"This is a small step for open government, but a giant
leap for the United States Senate," said Tom Blanton, director
of the National Security Archive. "We applaud Congress'
action to fulfill the intent of the Freedom of Information Act.
This legislation will correct many of the deficiencies in FOIA
that the Archive's audits have revealed."
The most recent audit by the Archive, the Knight
Open Government Survey released in July 2007, found that
the oldest still-pending FOIA requests had languished in federal
agencies for as long as 20 years.
Knight Open Government Survey, released in March 2007, found
that only one out of five federal agencies had complied fully
with the last FOIA reform legislation, the Electronic FOIA Amendments
passed in 1996, intended to post so much government information
on the Web that many FOIA requests would become unnecessary.
The Archive's audits of federal government FOIA practice are
supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Archive
partners in the efforts to reform the FOIA include the OpenTheGovernment.org
coalition, the Sunshine in Government Initiative, the Coalition
of Journalists for Open Government, the Reporters Committee
for Freedom of the Press, Public Citizen and Public Citizen
Litigation Group, and dozens
of other groups that signed on to support the House and
Senate bills this year.