Earlier this week, Congress passed a bill that substantially reforms the Freedom of Information Act and expands the definition of who is a "representative of the news media" under the Act. The bill, entitled the "Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act" or, more succinctly, the "OPEN Government Act of 2007," passed unanimously in the Senate last week and cleared the House of Representatives by voice vote on Tuesday.
One of the most striking changes in the bill would significantly benefit bloggers and non-traditional journalists by making them eligible for reduced processing and duplication fees that are available to "representatives of the news media." The bill accomplishes this by adding the following language to FOIA:
Other important reforms include:
[T]he term 'a representative of the news media' means any person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience. In this clause, the term 'news’ means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public. Examples of news-media entities are television or radio stations broadcasting to the public at large and publishers of periodicals (but only if such entities qualify as disseminators of ‘news’) who make their products available for purchase by or subscription by or free distribution to the general public. These examples are not all-inclusive. Moreover, as methods of news delivery evolve (for example, the adoption of the electronic dissemination of newspapers through telecommunications services), such alternative media shall be considered to be news-media entities.
- Broadening the scope of information that can be requested by including government contracting information held by private contractors;
- Assigning public tracking numbers to all requests;
- Denying agencies that exceed the 20-day deadline for responses the right to charge requesters for search or copying costs;
- Making it easier to collect attorneys' fees for those who must sue to force compliance with their FOIA requests; and
- Establishing an office at the National Archives to accept citizen complaints, issue opinions on requests, and foster best practices within the government.
The bill must still be approved by the President, who has objected to some of the changes. According to The Washington Post:
The White House has objected to some of the bill's provisions, but proponents expect it to clear the final hurdle during the congressional recess next week, when bills left unsigned for 10 days can pass without the president's signature.
The full text of the OPEN Government Act of 2007 is available here. You can track the bill's progress on OpenCongress.org and read more analysis of the reforms on the National Freedom of Information Coalition's Blog and at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.