January 24, 2008

UPDATE: White House Seeks to Move FOIA Ombuds to Justice Dept.

Senators Patrick Leahy and John Cornyn are speaking out against a White House proposal to move the newly-created FOIA ombuds from the National Archives and Records Administration to the Department of Justice. In a little-noticed floor speech on Wednesday, Leahy said that “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 American’s FOIA requests.” The Office of Management and Budget said that any criticism is premature because the final budget. Nonetheless, advocacy groups are concerned. Pete Weitzel, head of the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, strongly oppose moving the funding, estimated to be about $6 million. “The idea of shifting to Justice is ludicrous,” Weitzel said. “Justice has a clear conflict of interest,” since the Justice Department represents federal agencies in disputes with FOIA requesters. (Leahy's Floor Speech; Austin American-Statesman; Coalition of Journalists for Open Government.)

This development could significantly handicap a high profile ombuds program and erode confidence in the profession. It's time for IOA (and/or USOA) to weigh in.

Prior post: Bill to Create FOIA Ombuds Goes to President.

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