U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation on Wednesday to achieve meaningful reforms to federal government information laws, most notably the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 (FOIA). The Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2005 (OPEN Government Act) is aimed at substantially enhancing and expanding the accessibility, accountability, and openness of the federal government. U.S. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee’s senior Democrat, is the bill’s co-sponsor.
“This reform legislation was created from the belief that FOIA establishes a presumption of openness,” said Cornyn, who in 2001 was presented with the James Madison Award for his efforts to promote open government by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “Open government is one of the most basic requirements of any healthy democracy. It allows for taxpayers to see where their money is going; it permits the honest exchange of information that ensures government accountability; and it upholds the ideal that government never rules without the consent of the governed.”
“This bill advances one of the most fundamental rights of Americans, the public’s right to know what its government is doing,” said Leahy, who has been a longtime champion of FOIA in Congress. Leahy sponsored the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments, which updated FOIA for the Internet age, and in 1996 he was installed in the Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame.
Importantly for bloggers, the Cornyn-Leahy legislation grants privileged FOIA fees for bloggers and writers for Internet outlets, providing the same status as old media and will protect access to FOIA fee waivers for legitimate journalists, regardless of institutional association – including bloggers and other Internet-based journalists.
This act potentially opens up a new sphere in bloggers investigating and reporting on Government information and demonstrates a true maturity of the medium, now recognised at the highest levels of Government.