Bush signs bill to expand transparency
Move aimed at giving public and media greater access to information
The Associated Press
updated 7:35 a.m. ET,
Tues., Jan. 1, 2008
CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush on Monday signed a bill
aimed at giving the public and the media greater access to information about
what the government is doing.
The new law toughens the Freedom of Information Act, the first such makeover
to the signature public-access law in a decade. It amounts to a
congressional pushback against the Bush administration's movement to greater
secrecy since the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Bush signed the bill without comment in one of his final decisions of the
The legislation creates a system for the media and public to track the
status of their FOIA requests. It establishes a hot line service for all
federal agencies to deal with problems and an ombudsman to provide an
alternative to litigation in disclosure disputes.
The law also restores a presumption of a standard that orders government
agencies to release information on request unless there is a finding that
disclosure could do harm.
Agencies would be required to meet a 20-day deadline for responding to FOIA
requests. Nonproprietary information held by government contractors also
would be subject to the law.
The legislation is aimed at reversing an order by former Attorney General
John Ashcroft after the 9/11 attacks in which he instructed agencies to lean
against releasing information when there was uncertainty about how doing so
would affect national security.
Dozens of media outlets, including The Associated Press, supported the
Last year, the government received 21.4 million requests for information
under the 40-year-old law, according to statistics provided by the Justice
Department. The government processed nearly the same number of requests,
which was almost 1.5 million more than processed during the previous fiscal
year, according to the department.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.