FOIA would get first major reform in 10 years

The Senate has passed legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, which would be the first major reform of the FOIA in a decade. The measure would require that each new FOIA request be assigned a tracking number to help expedite the request process.

The Senate passed the OPEN Government Act of 2007 Aug. 3 after problems in the FOIA were revealed in recent audits by the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research group. The House passed similar legislation earlier this year.

An audit in July found pending FOIA requests that were more than 20 years old, and an earlier audit found that only one out of five federal agencies fully complied with the last FOIA legislation, the Electronic FOIA Amendments, passed in 1996.

"This is a small step for open government, but a giant leap for the United States Senate," said Tom Blanton, director of the archive, in a statement. "We applaud Congress' action to fulfill the intent of the Freedom of Information Act. This legislation will correct many of the deficiencies in FOIA that the archive's audits have revealed."

In addition to requiring agencies to track FOIA requests by assigning tracking numbers, the legislation also would set a 20-day time limit for agencies to act on requests. Agencies would also be required to report more information to Congress, including disclosure of their 10 oldest pending requests.

The measure also would establish the Office of Government Information Services in the Administrative Conference of the United States. The office would report on FOIA activity to Congress and the president.

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