Clint Brewer, President, (615) 301-9229
Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 927-8000, ext. 211
INDIANAPOLIS –The Society of Professional Journalists and 42 open government organizations signed onto a Feb. 6 letter to House leaders that expresses concern over the Administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2009 budget attempts to shift funding for a new Office of Government Information Services at the National Archives and Records Administration to the Office of Information and Privacy at the Department of Justice. In December, President Bush signed the OPEN Government Act, which creates the Office of Government Services at the National Archives and Records Administration.
According to OpenTheGovernment.org, despite clear language in the OPEN Government Act to establish the OGIS within the NARA, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) reported that the Bush Administration is planning to shift the funding for the OGIS from NARA to the DOJ, the same organization that failed to improve FOIA in the past. The final budget has not been released.
“The intent and language of this important legislation needs to be honored by the administration,” SPJ National President Clint Brewer said. “This was a bipartisan bill that passed both chambers, and the directive to the administration is clear. The last place a new office designed to force accountability on FOIA issues needs to be is in one of the very agencies subject to FOI requests. It would be a clear conflict of interest to put the new Office of Government Information Services under the Department of Justice.”
FOIA, as it is commonly called, is one of the strongest tools Americans have to supervise the inner workings of government and hold elected officials accountable. The FOIA law does not alter disclosure requirements or any of its exemptions. However, the law does improve the process by which the federal government can carry out FOIA’s disclosure requirements. The new law creates an independent ombudsman to resolve citizen disputes, helps agencies strengthen FOIA, creates a system for the public to easily track the status of requests and allows requesters to more effectively recover legal costs incurred when agencies improperly deny requests.
“It’s appalling that the president is backpedaling from his own signature and undermining the ability for citizens to access their own government,” said David Cuillier, chairman of the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee. “We aren’t talking about exposing state secrets or someone’s privacy. Just a simple mediator to work out disputes fairly and equitably on behalf of citizens. The president is keeping the American public in the dark, and that’s just wrong.”
The 2009 FY budget was sent to Congress on Monday. A budget resolution will be presented by Congress later this spring. To prevent the Bush Administration from shifting critical FOIA funds from NARA to the DOJ, SPJ leaders are encouraging journalists and public citizens to register their concerns by writing or calling members of Congress. For the House of Representatives and Senate listings, visit House.gov and Senate.gov. Additionally, personal meetings with lawmakers in their home states should be scheduled during the upcoming President’s Day holiday on Feb. 18.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For further information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.