My last post got me digging into the multitude of awards DOJ gives out each year, and this one caught my eye: The Attorney General’s Award for Outstanding Service in Freedom of Information Act Administration. Pretty funny.
After John Ashcroft told agencies to use any possible justification to withhold information under FOIA, Bush in 2005 issued an executive order allegedly to improve FOIA disclosure. But that did little to assauge open-government advocates. “Essentially agencies just kept moving the goal posts [for disclosure], including at Justice itself,” Thomas Blanton of the non-profit National Security Archives at George Washington University told me. “The FBI was one of the worst scofflaws.” Read Blanton’s report here. In 2007 the DOJ FOIA award winners were Kenneth A. Hendricks and Thomas E. Hitter, Attorney-Advisors for the Office of Information and Privacy. They were honored for their “tremendous efforts related to the FOIA Executive Order.” In 2007 the bi-partisan team of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Judiciary member Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) passed a bill to de-politicize FOIA by establishing an office at the National Archives and Records Administration with an ombudsman to resolve FOIA disputes across the government and speed up compliance. Bush waited until the last minute (Dec. 31, 2007) to sign the bill. Then, the White House tried to gut it by yanking funding for the new office and shifting the money back to DOJ. One of Eric Holder’s first acts will be to issue his own FOIA memo setting policy on transparency.
Blanton said open-government advocates expect him to return at least to the “very good” Janet Reno standard, and they hope he will even “take it to the next level” by making FOIA releases accessible to everyone on the Web.
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