Policy and News Updates for March 20, 2007

Policy Updates

[new] Sunshine in the House
Last week was Sunshine Week, and the House celebrated by passing several bills that would promote transparency and open government. The bills addressed Freedom of Information Act reform, contractor responsibility, whistleblower protections, and access to presidential records.

Freedom of Information Act
On March 14, 2007, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 308-117, approved H.R. 1309, the "Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007." This legislation contains provisions that will increase public access to government information by strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The legislation would: restate the 20-day response requirement and impose penalties on agencies that fail to meet the requirement to reduce delays in agency processing of FOIA requests; improve customer service and accountability by requiring agencies to establish FOIA hotlines and tracking systems; create a FOIA ombudsman in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to serve as a resource for the public in requesting documents and to exercise oversight of FOIA compliance; and create a presumption of openness by reversing the Ashcroft memorandum. The same day, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on H.R. 1309, expressing the Administration’s opposition to the bill. To see how your Member of the House voted on the bill, go here. See a summary of the bill here.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up the OPEN Government Act of 2007 (S. 849), co-sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). Last week, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on "Open Government: Reinvigorating the Freedom of Information Act."

TAKE ACTION: Write to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Tell them to support the OPEN Government Act!

Contractor Responsibility
In the past six years the amount spent on federal contracts has nearly doubled from $207 billion in FY2000 to almost $400 billion in FY2005. Adding more transparency to the process will help limit waste, fraud, and abuse. Honest Leadership and Accountability in Contracting Act of 2007 (S. 606) is a good first step in eliminating fraud and abuse in federal contracts. In the House, the Accountability in Contracting Act (H.R. 1362), sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), would "change federal acquisition law to require agencies to limit the use of abuse-prone contracts, to increase transparency and accountability in federal contracting, and to protect the integrity of the acquisition workforce." The bill was passed by the House 347 to 73 on Mar. 15. See a summary of the bill here. See how your member voted.

TAKE ACTION to increase contractor responsibility and oversight!

Whistleblower Protection Act
By a vote of 331 to 94, the House on Mar. 14 passed the Whistleblower Enhancement Protection Act of 2007 (H.R. 985), which would offer additional protections to federal government employees who bring forward evidence of corruption, fraud, and abuse at their agencies. The bill would provide those covered by the WPA access to jury trials in federal district court to challenge reprisals. The bill would also extend rights to all national security whistleblowers, including those at the FBI and intelligence agencies, federally-funded contractors, and 40,000 airport baggage screeners. The Bush Administration released a SAP against the bill. See a summary of the bill here. See how your member voted.

Presidential Records Act
By a vote of 333 to 93, the House on Mar. 14 passed the Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007 (H.R. 1255), which would ensure that presidential records are made available to the public and would nullify President Bush’s order that gave former presidents the authority to withhold documents. OMB released another SAP against this bill. See a summary of the bill here. See how your member voted.

News from Coalition Partners and Others


New Report: File Not Found
Ten years after Congress enacted the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments (E-FOIA), only one in five federal agencies actually complies with the law, according to a new survey released during Sunshine Week by the National Security Archive. Read the report, File Not Found: 10 Years After E-FOIA, Most Federal Agencies Are Delinquent.

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