In an unpublicized, media-free, non-ceremony, President Bush secretly signed a bill intended to bring an end to much of the secrecy that has surrounded this administration. The OPEN Government Act was passed by Congress with overwhelming majorities. But that was only after it had been blocked for months by a secret “hold” that was placed on it by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who was acting on behalf of Bush and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The OPEN Government Act is a positive step forward, enhancing the 41 year old Freedom of Information Act. Among other things, the Act will…
- require the release of requested documents unless their disclosure would do actual harm
- bring government contractors under FOIA
- compel the government to respond to FOIA requests within 20 days of their receipt
- create a system by which citizens may track the progress of their requests
- establish a hot-line service for all federal agencies to cope with problems
- establish an ombudsman to help resolve disputes about non-disclosure
In addition it codifies the definition of a “representative of the news media” as…
“…any person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience. In this clause, the term `news’ means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public.”
That is an admirably broad definition that would include much of the blogging and alternative media communities. With these changes the public has a much better chance of gaining access to documents that were produced in their name, and with their tax dollars. And there is a much higher likelihood that government agencies will be foiled in their attempts to keep vital information from being made public.
Update: Well, it only took 3 weeks for BushCo to pervert the intent of Congress and the just passed OPEN Government Act. The administration is attempting to shift the funding for the Act to the Department of Justice which has no facility to perform the duties enumerated by the Act, thus killing it. The matter is not, however, concluded as the bill’s authors will oppose this subterfuge and insist that the National Archives retain jurisdiction. Stay tuned.