In August, the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government reported that “current government handling of FOIA requests is deteriorating” and that the Justice Department was “consistently granted the lowest percentage of [FOIA] appeals of any agency.”
On New Years Eve, facing “congressional pushback against the Bush administration’s movement to greater secrecy,” President Bush signed the OPEN Government Act, toughening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The legislation — unanimously passed by the House and Senate — would push agencies to respond more quickly to records requests.
But now, the White House is doing everything it can to neuter the law. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) said yesterday that Bush’s FY2009 “funds for the Office of Government Information Services authorized under the newly enacted OPEN Government Act will be shifted to the Department of Justice” from the National Archives. Congress Daily reports:
“But by shifting the funding to the Justice Department, OMB would effectively eliminate the office, because it appears no similar operation would be created there,” according to an aide to Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT). [...]
National Archives officials are relatively independent of political pressure, the staffer explained, “but DOJ is different.” Government transparency advocates consider the department hostile to efforts to improve FOIA responsiveness, in part because it represents agencies sued by FOIA requesters.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a cosponsor of the OPEN Government legislation said he “does agree with Senator Leahy and would oppose that effort” of the adminstration.
The Justice Department’s efforts to protect government secrecy are notorious. In fact, in the 109th Congress, the Department “squelched efforts to pass the OPEN Government Act.” But even initially “putting it [funding] in DOJ would essentially obviate what Leahy and Cornyn did with the legislation,” said Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org
Bush’s noncompliance with the legislation makes clear his effort to return to his old ways of egregious government secrecy.