Policy and News Updates for August 7, 2007

Policy Updates

In This Issue:

I. Congress passes legislation for openness, also secrecy

I. Congress passes legislation for openness, also secrecy

Open Government Act
On August 3, the Senate passed the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act (or OPEN Government Act) (S. 849), legislation that will strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and enhance the public’s right to know. Specifically, the bill will impose consequences on federal agencies for missing FOIA’s 20-day statutory deadline; establish a FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies; and ensure that nonprofits and new media, such as bloggers, will be entitled to News-Media status for purposes of fee waivers. The law will also ensure that FOIA requestors who are forced to litigate to obtain records from the government will be eligible to recover their attorneys’ fees if the government releases the documents prior to a judicial order.
Also see: Bipartisan Leahy-Cornyn Bill Passes Senate,
On Course To Increase Government Transparency
[Sen. Leahy’s statement] and OpenTheGovernment.org’s Press Release

Status: Passed the House and Senate and will be sent to the White House for signature by President Bush.

Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act

On August 3, President Bush signed the “Implementing
Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007” Act (PL 110-053; H.R. 1). The law authorizes more than $4 billion for four years for rail, transit and bus security; gives protections for employees of railroad, trucking, public transit, bus, and other land transportation providers; strengthens the Public Interest Declassification Board; and requires the president and Congress to disclose total spending requested and approved for the intelligence community. The latter requirement is being challenged by Rep. Darrell Issa [R-CA] a member of the House Intelligence Committee, whose amendment to the fiscal 2008 defense appropriations bill (HR 3222) to block disclosure was adopted by voice vote.
Also see: Bush Signs Homeland Security Bill [AP via Washington Post 8.3.07]

Status: Signed by President Bush. Public Law 110-053.

Honest Leadership and Open Government Act
One August 2, the Senate passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (S.1), a bill that provides online disclosure of lobbying information in both the House and the Senate. The vote was 83-14. The House voted 411-8 in favor of their version of the bill last week. The bill seeks to close the revolving door by requiring disclosure of past executive branch and congressional employment in the past 20 years; requiring online, searchable disclosure of lobbying by requiring quarterly filing of lobbying reports with additional disclosure information; and requiring all Senate committees and subcommittees to post online a video, audio, or written transcript of any meeting within 21 days of it taking place.
Status: Passed the House and Senate. Sent to the White House for signature by President Bush.

Protect America Act of 2007
On Saturday, August 4, the House voted 227-183 to expand warrantless intelligence surveillance, following the Senate’s approval the night before. The Protect America Act of 2007 (S. 1927) allows the United States government to eavesdrop on people outside of the U.S. whose communications are routed through the U.S. Civil liberties advocates expressed concern over the legislation, which provides the government virtually unchecked power to surveil international communications. The legislation will expire in six months. Immediately after the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] called on the chairs of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees to report more comprehensive legislation to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act “as soon as possible.”

Also see: FAQ: How far does the new wiretap law go? [CNET.com]

Status: Sent to the White House for signature by President Bush.

News from Coalition Partners and Others

Hold your state officials accountable
The Center for Public Integrity researched state requirements on the filing of Personal Financial Disclosures by all three branches of state government – executive, legislative and judicial – to help the public hold officials accountable and determine the potential for conflicts of interest. See States of Disclosure: Tracking the private interests of public officials.

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