Light shined on Bush administration

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Congress passed legislation Tuesday to toughen the Freedom of Information Act and increase penalties on agencies that don&8217;t comply. The Freedom of Information Act works much like this state&8217;s open records law. It allows citizens to make requests for information from the national government.

Last year, the U.S. government received 21.4 million requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Justice Department.

The bill passed by Congress on Tuesday restores a presumption of disclosure from government agencies unless there is a finding that such disclosure could co harm.

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Agencies would have to meet a 20-day deadline to respond to the requests. The agencies would have to forward requests for information to the appropriate agency within 10 days.

If they don&8217;t meet the 20-day deadline, then agencies would have to refund search and duplication fees for noncommercial requests. They would have to explain any blacked-out information by citing the specific exemption.

The measure also would create a system for those people making requests to track the status. It sets up a hotline for all federal agencies to deal with problems and an ombudsman to provide an alternative to lawsuits in disclosure disputes.

This is a positive move, indeed, if President Bush allows the law to stand. As of now, the White House won&8217;t say whether Bush will sign the legislation. Without his signature, the bill would become law during the recess that begins next week.

The Bush administration has long held back in providing information to the public, a practice that began after the terrorist attacks in 2001.

If Bush doesn&8217;t veto the measure, the next administration will run a government that is much more open.

An open government is a secure government on any level.