Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, and Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont introduced Senate Bill 394 on February 16, 2005. The bill’s title says it all: Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2005 (OPEN Government Act). The act, according the senator Cornyn’s press release, “ is aimed at substantially enhancing and expanding the accessibility, accountability, and openness of the federal government…The legislation is supported by groups from across the political spectrum, from ACLU to the Heritage Foundation.”
The bill is the result of long meetings between interested parties across the political spectrum. The bill quotes FOIA’s statutory "strong presumption in favor of disclosure," but admits that the reality has not always lived up to the Act’s requirements. Senator Cornyn says that "If records can be open, they should be open. If there is a good reason to keep something closed, it is the government that should bear the burden (of proof) - not the other way around." Senator Leahy noted that "FOIA has had serious setbacks in recent years. …The bill updates "its protections to include new technologies and ... to reduce delays and encourage accessibility.
The bill’s provisions would:
- Establish a new open government impact statement, by requiring that any future Congressional attempt to create a new FOIA exemption be expressly stated within the text of the legislation
- Ensure that FOIA applies when agency recordkeeping functions are outsourced
- Impose annual reporting requirement on usage of the DHS disclosure exemption for critical infrastructure information
- Protect access to FOIA fee waivers for legitimate journalists, regardless of institutional association – including bloggers and other Internet-based journalists
- Provide reliable reporting of FOIA performance, by requiring agencies to distinguish between first person requests for personal information and other kinds of requests
- Require agencies to give people seeking documents a tracking number within 10 days and to set up telephone or Internet systems allowing them to learn the status and estimated completion date
- Impose the loss of all exemptions except national security, personal privacy, proprietary information or a ban in another law for non-responsive agencies.
- Improve personnel policies for FOIA officials to enhance agency FOIA performance
- Examine the need for FOIA awareness training for federal employees
- Determine appropriate funding levels needed to ensure agency FOIA compliance
For more information, see http://cornyn.senate.gov/FOIA/files/OPEN_Gov_Act_general_desc.pdf