August 6, 2007 | By Marcia Hofmann

Just Before Recess, Senate Approves FOIA Reform Bill

The day before adjourning for August recess, the Senate unanimously approved S.849, the OPEN Government Act, a bipartisan bill that is the first significant update to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in more than a decade. When Congress is back in session, a conference will reconcile the differences between this bill and similar legislation passed by the House of Representatives in March.

Among other things, the legislation will strike a blow to government secrecy by:

  • Ensuring that freelance and alternative journalists are treated as members of the media under the FOIA, which entitles them to reduced fees.
  • Establishing a system to make it easier to track FOIA requests so that they don't become lost in government bureaucracy.
  • Creating an ombudsman's office within the National Archives to help resolve conflicts between agencies and requesters.
  • Encouraging agencies to reduce processing delays and avoid litigation.
  • Imposing greater reporting requirements to let Congress and the public know more about how agencies handle requests.
  • Revelations about the FBI's misuse of a key PATRIOT Act power and other privacy-invasive initiatives clearly demonstrate the importance of government transparency. This law will make it easier for EFF's FOIA Litigation for Accountable Government (FLAG) project and other FOIA requesters to keep the government accountable to the people.

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