Take That, Secrecy!
The House and Senate pushed through big reforms to the Freedom of Information Act, more commonly known as the FOIA around newsrooms. What does FOIA do? If journalists want to lay hands on an unreleased but legally available document, they submit FOIA requests.
The act states that any person should have access to records of U.S. government agencies, barring some exemptions. Often when a FOIA request is submitted, these agencies can be uncooperative or even blatantly unresponsive. They get away with it because there aren't very good methods for tracking requests, and only light punishments are given to those that don't comply.
Some stories on the issue herald the FOIA beef-up as a strike at a Bush administration given to shadow and secrecy.
Congress passed legislation on Tuesday, Dec. 18, that would give government groups 20 days to respond to a request, develop a tracking system and put in tougher penalties for noncompliance. The bill sailed through the Senate. The House unanimously voted in favor of it. There's no word yet on whether President Bush will sign it.
You should care because ... Anything that can be done to make the FOIA more beefy benefits you, dear reader, in two ways: First, you, too, can use the act to procure information, and might is right when it comes to bureaucracy. Second, if reporters are able to access government documents, the quality and quantity of your information increases. You don't really like the idea of the government acting on your behalf with your dollars keeping its actions a secret, do you?