Bush Refuses to Fund New FOIA Ombudsman, Takes the Heart Out of Open Government Reform Law

Well, that was quick. Mere weeks after signing the "OPEN Government Act of 2007" on December 31, 2007, which significantly reformed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), President Bush is now attempting to cut out the heart of the OPEN Government Act by refusing to fund the newly created FOIA ombudsman's office.


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Bush Signs FOIA Reform Bill; New Definition of News Media Will Benefit Bloggers and Non-Traditional Journalists

In one of his last executive actions of the year, President Bush signed into law the "OPEN Government Act of 2007" on December 31, 2007. The Senate unanimously passed the reform bill earlier in December, and it passed the House of Representatives by voice vote on December 18. The Associated Press is reporting that Bush signed the bill without comment.


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Congress Passes FOIA Reform Bill, Expands Definition of "News Media"

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.


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Center for Public Integrity v. U.S. Dept. Health and Human Servs.



Threat Type: 

Denial of Access

Party Issuing Legal Threat: 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Center for Public Integrity

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Court Name: 

United States District Court for the District of Columbia

Case Number: 


Legal Counsel: 

Michelle Johnson

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Verdict (plaintiff)


The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to producing investigative journalism on issues of public concern, requested to be treated as a representative of the news media for purposes of document requests it made under the Freedom of Information Act. Such a designation would have allowed CPI to pay only photocopying costs, instead of higher processing fees applicable to the general public. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) denied CPI's requests on several occasions.

On October 24, 2007, CPI sued DHHS, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on the question whether CPI was a "representative of the news media" for purposes of assessing processing fees under FOIA. After the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, the court held that, because CPI had a concrete, "firm intention" to use the information from the FOIA requests to publish one or more "distinct works" such as reports and press releases, CPI qualified as a representative of the news media. The court distinguished CPI from groups like Judicial Watch that previously failed to qualify as representatives of the news media because they had only vague plans to publish creative or analytical works based upon FOIA requests in general (and not necessarily the information from any particular request).

On October 2, 2007, DHHS filed a notice of appeal which it subsequently withdrew.


As of August 17, 2007, CPI's bill of costs and motion for attorney's fees was pending with the court.


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Leveraging FOIA: Websites Shine a Bright Light on Government Records

Two new websites recently launched that give the public unprecedented access to government documents acquired through the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other public disclosure, or "sunshine," laws: and


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U.S. Senate Approves FOIA Amendments

Last Friday night (8/3), the United States Senate passed the the FOIA reform bill, S.849, before retiring for its August recess. We discussed the proposed FOIA amendments in detail a few weeks ago, when Senator Kyl was still holding the bill up in the Senate. The most notable aspect of the draft legislation from our perspective is its expansive definition of "the news media," which appears to encompass bloggers and other online journalists. The bill also establishes a tracking system for individual information requests, reinforces FOIA deadlines for federal agencies, allows for recovery of attorney's fees when a requester is forced to file suit, and creates a FOIA ombudsman to help resolve disputes between the public and agencies without litigation.

When Congress reconvenes in September, the Senate and House (H.R.1309) versions of the bill likely will go to Conference to resolve small differences between them before final passage into law (assming, of course, that there is no presidential veto). (Please see the Open Congress website to search for the most recently available text of S.849 and H.R.1309.)

The CMLP applauds this important step towards greater efficiency, transparency, and fairness in handling requests for government information.

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FOIA Amendments Beneficial to Citizen Journalists Held Up in Senate

The New York Times reports that a bi-partisan bill (H.R.1309) to amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is stalled in the Senate after passing the House in March 2007 with a large majority (308-117).

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CIA Definition of 'News Media' for FOIA Requests Could Include Citizen Journalists is reporting that the CIA has adopted a new definition of "news media" that could significantly reduce the fees and costs for citizen journalists who request documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

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