Just weeks after signing legislation that significantly updated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the first time in more than a decade, the President is attempting to single-handedly strike a major part of the new law.
Among other improvements to the FOIA, the OPEN Government Act created an ombudsman to settle problems between FOIA requesters and federal agencies, as well as keep tabs on how well the FOIA works in practice. Rather than put the new office in the Department of Justice, which has been in charge of the government's FOIA policy for more than 30 years and represents the government in FOIA lawsuits filed by requesters, Congress decided that it should be part of the National Archives and Records Administration to help maintain its independence.
It seemed that President Bush was behind this idea when he signed the OPEN Government Act into law on December 31. His proposed budget for 2009, however, includes a provision that would "repeal" the ombudsman's office and shift its funding to the Justice Department.
If the President's attempt to get rid the ombudsman is successful, it would be tremendously unfortunate for both the public and the government. This new office is meant to give requesters a way to resolve FOIA disputes without having to resort to litigation, which would be cheaper and less burdensome for people who have trouble getting documents from the government, and might reduce the number of FOIA lawsuits that the government has to defend against. The creation of the ombudsman's office is a good idea for improving the FOIA process, which doesn't work as well as it should. The President should see if it makes things better before deciding it's not worth the money.
EFF has joined a coalition of more than 40 organizations asking Congress to provide funds for the ombudsmen to work out of the National Archives as Congress intended. You can read our objections to the budget proposal here.
To learn more about EFF's Freedom of Information Act litigation, click here.