Today, Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) announced the introduction of the Faster FOIA Act, which establishes an advisory commission of experts and government officials to study whether changes in federal law and policy are needed to ensure more effective and timely compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law.
The Faster FOIA Act would direct the 16--member Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays Commission to report to Congress and the president on how to reduce the lengthy delays in the federal government's handling of FOIA inquiries. The committee study would specifically attempt to identify methods of reducing delay in FOIA processing, create an efficient and equitable processing system, and examine whether the charging of fees and granting of waivers needs to be reformed. It would be required to issue a report within one year of the enactment of the legislation. The Senate Judiciary Committee marked up similar legislation last week.
"It is time for the pendulum to swing back to favor a more open democracy and let the sun shine, opening the doors to a more accessible and transparent government," said Congressman Sherman. "We must improve the accountability, accessibility, and openness of the federal government by improving FOIA."
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Several years ago, President Bush signed an executive order requiring agencies to designate a senior official to oversee compliance with the law that for 40 years has provided an important tool for reporters and citizens to obtain information about the government. Sherman was honored to attend the signing ceremony (photo attached), but the president's order failed to address his administration's own policies, which dramatically reduced public access to government documents.
Some historians reportedly had to wait more than a year before requests were even acknowledged. Citing exaggerated homeland security claims, agencies have denied environmentalists access to drainage maps. The end result is that the number of documents being declassified for public access has dwindled dramatically.