FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, August 3, 2007
rblum (at) sunshineingovernment.org
The ten media organizations comprising the Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI) applaud Senate passage of bipartisan, common sense reforms to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“The Senate has voted to give the public a better system to ensure our government is open and accountable,” said Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative. “This is a strong statement that openness is vital to American democracy. This bill creates an independent ombudsman to resolve citizen disputes and help agencies strengthen FOIA. It will help the public hold agencies accountable for avoiding openness.”
SGI would like to express appreciation to Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), their staffs and Senate leaders for working so hard and diligently to ensure this popular bill creates meaningful fixes to the broken FOIA system.
The Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act, or OPEN Government Act (S. 849), makes simple, common sense reforms to the way federal agencies process requests for documents under FOIA. Among its improvements, the legislation:
· Creates a tracking system and hotline for requesters
· Restores meaningful deadlines for agency action and imposes real consequences on federal agencies for missing statutory deadlines
· Creates an ombudsman to help requesters use FOIA and avoid and resolve disputes
· Makes it easier for the public to recover legal fees when requesters must sue for records
The House already approved nearly identical legislation (H.R. 1309) by an overwhelming vote of 308-117.
The Sunshine in Government Initiative is a coalition of ten media groups promoting open and accountable government. For a copy of the letter and more information, visit www.sunshineingovernment.org.
Members of the SGI coalition include: American Society of Newspaper Editors, Associated Press, Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, National Association of Broadcasters, National Newspaper Association, Newspaper Association of America, Radio-Television News Directors Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Society of Professional Journalists.
Comments from SGI Members
“As American citizens, we are the owners of our government. But as the federal government has grown, much of what it produces has been locked away. By passing the OPEN Government Act, the Senate has provided us all with a shiny new set of keys to take possession of that which is rightfully ours.”
— Richard Karpel
Executive Director, Association of Alternative Newsweeklies
“With the passage of the OPEN Government Act, the public has new tools to ensure its government is transparent and accountable, and, while members of the media maybe the highest profile users of FOIA, it is every day citizens and businesses who submit the most requests for information from our government. FOIA is simply an indispensable way for citizens, journalists and businesses to access information about their government, including government waste, abuse and wrongdoing. We are grateful to Senators Leahy and Cornyn for their steadfast leadership in the enactment of these meaningful and constructive reforms.”
— John Sturm
President and CEO, Newspaper Association of America
“SPJ commends the U.S. Senate for approving reform of what is perhaps Americans’ strongest tool to supervise the inner workings of government.”
— Christine Tatum
National President, Society of Professional Journalists
Assistant Features Editor/Online Features Editor, The Denver Post
“This is a huge advancement for open government, and long overdue. But this isn’t just a victory for journalists; it’s a victory for every single member of the American public. This legislation will eliminate some of the lengthy delays and persistent backlogs in the FOIA process that create obstacles and limit the public’s ability to make informed choices in their communities.”
— Barbara Cochran
President, Radio-Television News Directors Association