Experts on the U.S. Freedom of Information Act are telling Congress that the law remains an unwieldy and inefficient tool for obtaining government records despite President Barack Obama‘s promise to reinvigorate the law and improve his administration’s transparency.
John Podesta, president of the progressive Center for American Progress, says in testimony prepared for the Senate Judiciary Committee that federal agencies have not implemented Obama’s order aggressively enough. The hearing is expected later Tuesday. Podesta, a former White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration, also says there is evidence some agencies have reduced their backlogs of information requests through administrative maneuvering instead of providing the requested information.
Sarah Cohen, a Duke University journalism professor testifying for a coalition of media associations, says in her testimony that the act is very difficult to navigate and useful only to the most patient and persistent journalists.
Another witness, Thomas Fitton of Judicial Watch, also is critical. Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, said it has filed 44 lawsuits to force the Obama administration to comply with the law.
The administration is highlighting the progress it says has been made since January 2009, when Obama said he would make government more open and federal agencies would disclose more information rapidly.
At an event Monday celebrating Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information, Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli said agencies are releasing more records than before. And more documents are being provided in complete form, he said.
“Where we once might have looked at a document, noticed a piece that could be released, and redacted the rest, we’re now more often determining that we can release the whole thing,” Perrelli said.
An Associated Press analysis of new federal data found agencies took action on fewer requests for federal records from citizens, journalists, companies and others last year even as significantly more people asked for information. The administration disclosed at least some of what people wanted at about the same rate as the previous year, according to the AP’s review of the 35 largest government agencies.
Miriam Nisbet, director of the office of government information services at the National Archives and Records Administration, and Melanie Pustay, director of the office of information policy at the Justice Department, also were scheduled to testify at the Senate hearing.
Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov/
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