December 19, 2007

Bill to Create FOIA Ombuds Goes to President

Congress has sent President Bush legislation revamping the Freedom of Information Act. Among other provisions, it would establish an ombuds-type position to provide an alternative to litigation in disclosure disputes. If the President does not sign the bill, it would become law during the congressional recess that begins next week. (S. 2488 History; Associated Press; ACLU Statement; Society of Professional Journalists Statement.)

Despite what is being widely reported, it should be noted that the bill does not use the term "ombudsman." According to a summary by the legislative analysts at the Library of Congress, Section 10 of the bill will implement an office of Government Information Systems, with ombuds-like powers:

Establishes within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) an Office of Government Information Services to: (1) review compliance with FOIA policies; (2) recommend policy changes to Congress and the President; and (3) offer mediation services between FOIA requesters and administrative agencies as a non-exclusive alternative to litigation. Authorizes the Office to issue advisory opinions if mediation has not resolved the dispute.

Requires each agency to designate a Chief FOIA Officer, who shall: (1) have responsibility for FOIA compliance; (2) monitor FOIA implementation; (3) recommend to the agency head adjustments to agency practices, policies, personnel, and funding to improve implementation of FOIA; and (4) facilitate public understanding of the purposes of FOIA's statutory exemptions. Requires agencies to designate at least one FOIA Public Liaison, who shall be appointed by the Chief FOIA Officer, to: (1) serve as an official to whom a FOIA requester can raise concerns about service from the FOIA Requester Center; and (2) be responsible for assisting in reducing delays, increasing transparency and understanding of the status of requests, and assisting in the resolution of disputes. (Congressional Research Service.)

1 comment:

  1. This is great news for America and will end government agencies ability to hide from the public. At the Thomas Jackson Centers we have our fingers crossed that the President will sign this bill into law under his own signature. His name on the law would be an open endorsement that Open Government is good government. Without his name, the bill will ride out the congressional recess and become law absent the Presidents signature. The new law will also go a long way in answering the question “Are bloggers journalist?” Good question and here is my answer. I am one of three bloggers (correspondents, writers, etc.) on the three blogs of the Thomas Jackson Center. If you visit our site, you’ll see that ClustrMaps has tracked visitors from all over the world who read our blogs. The government may not like to call us journalist even though bloggers have broken some of the biggest stories in recent history. But and the Big But is - that blogs often have more readers than small town newspapers.