Magazine article Information Management

Bush Backtracks on Transparency

Magazine article Information Management

Bush Backtracks on Transparency

Article excerpt

President George W. Bush signed the Open Government Act of 2007 into law December 31. The bill, championed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (RTex.), imposes stiff, new rules for federal agencies to follow in complying with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The law also provides for the creation of an Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The new office is to be headed by an ombudsman with the power to settle disputes between government agencies and requesters of government documents. It is also supposed to monitor the way the Department of Justice (DOJ) implements the FOIA.

However, buried in Bush's 1,314page, $3.1 trillion budget request for fiscal year 2009, released in Februaiy, is a directive to shift the ombudsman job from NARA to the DOJ, meaning that the DOJ would be in a position to rule on FOIA cases in which government agencies accused of improperly withholding documents would also be defended by the DOJ, creating a conflict of interest. Bush allocated no funding for an FOIA ombudsman position at NARA.

"Such a move is not only contrary to the express intent of the Congress, but it is also contrary to the very purpose of this legislation to ensure the timely and fair resolution of Americans' FOIA requests," said Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of the original cosponsors of the Open Government Act. …

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