UNITED STATES: Sunshine Week 2007 brings major audit releases, congressional action on FOIA reform

15 March 2007

As journalists and advocates across the United States celebrated the third annual Sunshine Week, several groups released landmark audits of government openness and Congress moved forward with significant reform measures to fix the broken FOIA system.

March 11: Several journalism groups published a nationwide audit based on results from individuals in 37 states who sought from local offices an emergency response plan which federal law requires to be created, maintained, and made available to the public in each county. Only four in 10 of the officials were willing to provide copies of the emergency response plans. Read the full audit at www.sunshineweek.org.

March 12: The National Security Archive published a government-wide audit that found ten years after Congress enacted the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments (E-FOIA), only one in five federal agencies actually complies with the law. With support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the audit reviewed the Web sites of 149 federal agencies and their major components and identified the best and worst on E-FOIA compliance. Read the report at www.nsarchive.org.

March 13: National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton published an op-ed in the largest circulation newspaper in the United States, USA Today: "Are We Safer in the Dark?"

March 14: Despite strong opposition from the Bush administration, a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1309, the Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007. The Act, if accepted by the Senate and signed by the President, would institute penalties to encourage timely agency responses to FOIA requesters, mandate better reporting by agencies on their FOIA compliance, and provide an alternative to litigation for requesters to solve disputes with agencies.

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on its own FOIA reform measure, the OPEN Government Act of 2007. Witnesses at the hearing, including National Security Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs and several media representatives, highlighted ongoing deficiencies in FOIA performance at federal agencies and emphasized the need for a congressional mandate to enforce compliance with the 40-year-old open government law.

Read more about congressional action on FOIA reform:
"House Passes Open-Government Bills," by Elizabeth Williamson and Jonathan Weisman, The Washington Post, Thursday, March 15, 2007.
"Open Government Bills Stir Veto Threats," by Jim Abrams, Associated Press, March 14, 2007.

March 16: Journalists, open government activists, government employees, and others will join together on Friday at the conclusion of Sunshine Week to celebrate National FOI Day, hosted by the First Amendment Center in Washington, DC. National FOI Day is an annual, daylong program of speaking and discussion by specialists in various aspects of freedom of information, updating developments in FOI over the preceding year.


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