Leahy balks at Bush bid to shift new FOIA office to DOJ

[JURIST] US Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Monday criticized a provision in the Bush administration's proposed $3 trillion FY09 budget [White House materials] that would fund the newly created Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) through the Department of Justice (DOJ) rather than through the National Archives and Records Administration as originally intended. OGIS was established under the OPEN Government Act of 2007 [S 2488 materials], signed by President Bush in December 2007. According to the CRS summary [text] of the law, the Act:

Establishes within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) an Office of Government Information Services to: (1) review compliance with FOIA policies; (2) recommend policy changes to Congress and the President; and (3) offer mediation services between FOIA requesters and administrative agencies as a non-exclusive alternative to litigation. Authorizes the Office to issue advisory opinions if mediation has not resolved the dispute.
Leahy, who sponsored the OPEN Government Act along with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), said Monday that the FY09 budget indicates an intent to fund OGIS through the Justice Department [FY09 budget overview, PDF; DOJ appendix, PDF]. According to Leahy's statement [text]:
Once again, the White House has shown they intend to act contrary to the intent of Congress by removing the Office of Government Information Services from the non-partisan, independent office of the National Archives and Records Administration and moving it to the Department of Justice. The President signed legislation into law to establish the OGIS to respond to long outstanding FOIA requests. Now the President has repealed part of the law he signed just over a month ago. I will continue to work through the appropriations process to make sure that the National Archives and Records Administration has the necessary resources and funds to comply with the OPEN Government Act, and we will continue to work in Congress to make necessary reforms to the Freedom of Information Act.
One concern raised about maintaining the OGIS office under DOJ is that a conflict of interest would arise in cases where the DOJ is obligated to defend a government agency seeking to deny an FOIA request. AP has more.

 

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