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The Open Government Act
December 20, 2007 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Secrecy no more? The first major overhaul of the Freedom of Information act in years is awaiting President Bush's signature. It will finally create an "independent" government agency to handle to disputes between records holders and information requesters. The passage of the act comes after, ironically, after an Arizona senator used a "secret hold" to block the bill. He was ferreted out by a group of journalists.
posted by nospecialfx (26 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is good. I think in the federal system the only recourse requesters have is to the courts. This allows abuses on a scale not possible in states or other countries with independent agencies to arbitrate.
posted by grouse at 6:38 AM on December 20, 2007


This'll be, what..: veto number three?
posted by LordSludge at 7:03 AM on December 20, 2007


Hey Politicians- the WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING.
posted by stevejensen at 7:23 AM on December 20, 2007


Hey Politicians- the WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING

They have been for the last 4 years, why is this any different and Kyle is an embarrassment to Arizona.
posted by Mr_Zero at 7:40 AM on December 20, 2007


any imporvement would be a start. I have used it and it sucks under the present arrangement
posted by Postroad at 8:36 AM on December 20, 2007


Your first two links go to the same page.

But, this is interesting. Has Bush said he will veto this? If so, does congress have enough votes to override? If not what justification is the opposition using?
posted by oddman at 8:36 AM on December 20, 2007


heh i just started working in a fed office that fulfills foia requests, and i think improvement is needed also, the processes that we use go back... decades?

Please note that different agencies take widely different stances in regards to how they view requesters...
posted by stratastar at 8:48 AM on December 20, 2007


hmm ... the first two links are the same...
posted by stratastar at 8:53 AM on December 20, 2007


I have to say that there's probably no finer litmus test for identifying a politician who does not belong in office than seeing who blocks accountability measures like this.
posted by chips ahoy at 9:20 AM on December 20, 2007 [3 favorites]


These are lofty goals, and healthy skepticism naturally follows.

Yeah, as in, I'll believe it when I see it.

Which is to say, I would love for this to happen; the FOIA needs an overhaul, and I'd be particularly interested in this aspect:

Penalties for agencies that fail to follow FOIA deadlines


Because if the past couple of years should have taught us anything, it's that the simplest way to deal with those pesky unwanted requests is just to ignore them.
posted by quin at 9:26 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I just can't believe this bill will pass, and if it does, I can't believe it will be respected in any meaningful way -- National Security™, after all.

Am I being too cynical?
posted by LordSludge at 9:30 AM on December 20, 2007


Interestingly, Senator Kyl, who had earlier placed the secret hold, became a co-sponsor of the bill and is now being included in press releases from various parties as having played a "key role". (example)
posted by beagle at 9:36 AM on December 20, 2007


Interestingly, Senator Kyl, who had earlier placed the secret hold, became a co-sponsor of the bill and is now being included in press releases from various parties as having played a "key role".

Not to be cynical, but that's just good PR; if you've already screwed the pooch, your only salvation comes from becoming "part of the solution." Anything less and your career has no chance of full recovery.
posted by davejay at 9:45 AM on December 20, 2007


davejay writes "Not to be cynical, but that's just good PR; if you've already screwed the pooch, your only salvation comes from becoming 'part of the solution.' Anything less and your career has no chance of full recovery."

I thought what Kyl did was reprehensible, but I can't see it ending his career.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:04 AM on December 20, 2007


I thought what Kyl did was reprehensible, but I can't see it ending his career.

Sadly you are probably right, it won't end his career. However it should. As voters we need to be far more willing to fire those politicians who do not best serve the public. Take away the safety and comfort of being the incumbent. Make them work constantly to stay in office.
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:23 AM on December 20, 2007


*eyes suspiciously*
posted by Smedleyman at 10:34 AM on December 20, 2007


Posted from a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous.
This is a red herring. The main way that the government hides info, for either national security and political reasons, is by using private contractors, who are not subject to FOIA requests. I should know, I work for a contractor for an obscure office in the intelligence community. My employer is quite literally the entire technical expertise of our client- there's a few upper level government supervisors, and the rest of the organization is us, working at government facilities using government equipment. The work that we're doing would almost certainly have been done internally by the government 15 years ago. Reportedly, over 50% of the DoD intelligence budget, and 70% of the CIA National Clandestine Service budget (the organization responsible for humint) now goes to contractors. I'm sympathetic to the desire to use contractors in general to avoid the massive red tape that government HR stuff involves, and to protect information when it comes to intelligence, but the extent of this phenomenon is really gutting FOIA.
posted by jessamyn at 11:02 AM on December 20, 2007 [12 favorites]


This'll be, what..: veto number three?

The Senate passed the bill unanimously, and it passed 308-117 in the house. Bush won't likely veto the bill, as more than a 2/3rds majority has passed it in Congress, and as such would just override his veto if he did.
posted by Brak at 11:07 AM on December 20, 2007


From the SPJ website:

"We don’t anticipate any opposition in either chamber of Congress, and we expect both the House and Senate to fast-track their respective bills and pass them before Congress recesses for the holidays."
This was clearly born out.

"The President has not threatened a veto."
So, this seems to be good news. Perhaps our cynicism, though warranted, was in this case misplaced.
posted by oddman at 11:09 AM on December 20, 2007


On preview, what jessamyn related too.
posted by Brak at 11:09 AM on December 20, 2007


That's really an interesting point.

Any FOIA request on material covered by a contractor could be deemed, part of their business model and rejected under FOIA as such, (this of course would require the agreement of that agency's FOIA office).

I have no knowledge if that's how intelligence agencies willfully get around fulfilling FOIA requests.
posted by stratastar at 11:10 AM on December 20, 2007


Much much more on intelligence outsourcing: The Spy who Billed Me. If you clicked into a FOIA thread, this is must read stuff.
posted by shothotbot at 11:21 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


"The main way that the government hides info, for either national security and political reasons, is by using private contractors, who are not subject to FOIA requests"

That's done by state and local governments as well. Hell, school districts do it. Real pain. Anyone doing public business should be subject to FOIA requests. Not necessarily whatever is private within the corporation, but any conducting of public business, how it is executed, how much was spent, all the particulars, should be available to the public.
It is, after all, taxpayers money at work and we have a right to accountability. That's certain when it's my property taxes going to fund a project through some government official's brother in law, and it's definitely certain when the constitution is potentially being skirted.
It's my money, I have the right to demand accountability for it's expenditure through representative oversight. (Wasn't there a thing about that somewhere 'no taxation something representation'?)
I sure as hell don't want some profiteering goons starting and protracting a war so their corporate buddies can siphon more out of the public tit. At least Hizzoner sliding a creme puff job to his wife's lazy brother - as much as it should be prosecuted, as much of a betrayal of the public trust that it is - is not going to get anyone killed.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:07 PM on December 20, 2007


Anonymous : This isn't unsurprising. The main thrust of the chapters about post-9/11 America in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine pretty much runs along these lines. I am surprised by the timeline difference, where you say it started fifteen years ago, while Klein writes that the contracting out of the Defense Department ramped up under Rumsfeld.
posted by Weebot at 12:28 PM on December 20, 2007


Naomi Klein wrong? SHOCKING!!!
posted by stratastar at 2:31 PM on December 20, 2007


New Government Openness Law Not All That Open
posted by homunculus at 2:14 PM on January 3, 2008


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