New Bush Executive Order on FOIA Aims to Improve Government Responsiveness; Impact on Transparency Unclear

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The Bush administration's new Executive Order on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) acknowledges that federal FOIA systems are currently in need of great improvement and heightened responsiveness to members of the public seeking information through the FOIA.

Thomas S. Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive responded to the new Executive Order by stating, "After five years of throwing sand into the gears of the FOIA, the Bush administration is finally designating someone at the agencies to be responsible for compliance and performance. Now the question is: Will they have the determination and the authority to implement any real changes in the current ailing FOIA system?"

Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs noted, "Up until now this administration has strongly resisted transparency and accountability. We can only hope that this is a sign that it intends to start being more responsive to the public."

The National Security Archive has extensively audited the performance of the FOIA during the Bush administration and published detailed reports on the depth of FOIA backlogs pending at major federal agencies and the impact of Attorney General John Ashcroft's October 2001 memo on the FOIA. The Archive found a system plagued by delay, inefficiency and functioning in large part without high level official support for the work of government FOIA personnel.

"We are hopeful this Executive Order will lead to greater concern from senior agency officials for the FOIA. It remains uncertain how it will be implemented and whether any actual processing changes will result. One wonders if the administration is just trying to preempt the growing bipartisan movement to strengthen the FOIA by issuing a potentially weak Executive Order," commented Barbara Elias, the Archive's freedom of information coordinator.

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