Freedom of Information Act Reforms: Talking Points

The OPEN Government Act (S. 849) and its House counterpart, H.R. 1309 (The Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007) make simple, common sense reforms to the way federal agencies process requests for documents under FOIA. Among their 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
  • Ensures that, whenever requesters must sue the government and litigation causes agencies to release documents, the government reimburses the requester’s legal costs.
  • Despite its flaws, the FOIA still is an important tool to keep the public informed. In May 2007 alone the law has helped the public learn that:

  • Construction equipment interfered with navigation equipment at one of America’s busiest airports
  • Safety violations plagued the driver and tanker involved in an accident causing the collapse of a freeway interchange near San Francisco
  • A Defense Department espionage warning that transmitters embedded in unique-looking coins had been planted on U.S. contractors turned out to be a false alarm; the coins were commemorative Canadian quarters.
  • For more information on the current FOIA legislation:

  • Brief overview (pdf) of S. 849 & FOIA problems (2 pp.)
  • section-by-section analysis of H.R. 1309, the Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007
  • Historical background on FOIA