Magazine article Information Management

Executive Order May Speed FOIA Compliance

Magazine article Information Management

Executive Order May Speed FOIA Compliance

Article excerpt

Lawmakers and the media have long complained about the inordinate amount of time - sometimes weeks or even months - it takes for government agencies to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) disclosure requests. They can only hope that a recent Executive Order issued by President George W. Bush will speed up the process.

The order requires federal agencies to designate a chief FOIA officer who will monitor FOIA activities throughout the agency. It also instructs agencies to set up FOIA Requester Service Centers to help information seekers make a request.

While the new FOIA order is expected to speed up the time-consuming FOIA process, it does not repeal a memo issued in 2001 by former Attorney General John Ashcroft that curbed the release of FOIA-requested materials from all federal agencies. Ashcroft's memo changed the existing "foreseeable harm" legal standard for whether an agency should release materials with a "sound legal basis" standard. The Ashcroft standard has been criticized for slowing the flow of information even further.

Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have raised concerns about delays in the FOIA information release process. They have introduced two bills, the OPEN Government Act and the Faster FOIA Act, to improve FOIA request processing.

The OPEN Government Act would amend FOIA to prohibit a federal agency from denying the present fee status for a news media representative solely on the absence of the requester's institutional associations. If a requester has no prior publication history or current affiliation, the measure requires an agency to consider the requester's stated intent at the time the request is made to distribute information to a reasonably broad audience. The bill also would set a 20-day time limit within which agencies shall determine whether to comply with a request for records on the day in which the request is first received and would require agencies to establish a system to assign tracking numbers for requests for information and telephone or Internet service to provide the status of requests. …

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