Government Information To Be More Accessible

Our serious injury lawyers often request information from governmental agencies in efforts to help our clients. Many times, despite laws requiring disclosure, our requests are routinely denied or ignored.
The Bush administration has consistently pushed toward secrecy in government. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft had issued an order instructing agencies to lean against releasing information if there was any uncertainty about how it would affect national security.
Now the Congress is fighting this trend by passing legislation which would expand the Freedom of Information Act ( FOIA), increase penalties for noncompliance and make records held by government contractors subject to disclosure.
The bill restores a presumption of disclosure standard which requires agencies to release requested information unless there is a finding that such disclosure could do harm.
Agencies would be required to meet a 20-day deadline for responding to requests. Their FOIA offices would have to forward requests for information to the appropriate agency office within 10 days of receiving them. It they fail to meet the 20-day deadline, agencies would have to refund search and duplication fees for noncommercial requesters. They also would have to explain any redacted information by citing the specific exemption under which the information qualifies. Nonproprietary information held by government contractors also would be subject to the law.
A previously passed version of the bill was rewritten address concerns about how government agencies would pay for attorneys’ fees when they lose or settle a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The legislation also creates a system for the media and public to track the status of their FOIA requests. It establishes a hotline service for all federal agencies to deal with problems and an ombudsman to provide an alternative to litigation in disclosure disputes.

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