When President Bush signed the Open Government Act of 2007 on New Years Eve, the first reform of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in a decade, one might have been tempted to believe the administration was reevaluating its embrace of hyper secrecy and warming to more openness and transparency. No such luck.
Over the weekend, Think Progress reported how the administration is now attempting to "neuter" the new law, which Congress wrote to open up government to more accountability. The law sets up the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), designed as an ombudsman to provide independent oversight and settle disputes over FOIA requests. The law authorized funds to address backlogs in the requests and resolve the requests in a timely manner.
But the administration’s 2009 budget outline proposes shifting funds for the OGIS, estimated to be about $6 million, from the National Archives to the Department of Justice, where it would essentially die. Sens. Pat Leahy and John Cornyn, sponsors of the new law, are united in opposition to Bush’s efforts. Think Progress cites a Congress Daily (subscription required) report that quotes a Leahy aide as saying if the funds were shifted to Justice, the Office of Management and Budget "would effectively eliminate the office, because it appears no similar operation would be created there." National Archives officials are relatively independent of political pressure, the staffer said. Justice, on the other hand, is "hostile to efforts to improve FOIA responsiveness, in part because it represents agencies sued by FOIA requesters," Think Progress writes.