In today's New York Times, the business section looks at Congressional legislation pending to reform the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the law that allows citizens, trade associations, and of course journalists, to pierce the veil of obscurity that often surrounds the machinery of government.
The Times, citing examples, notes the federal sunshine law has stopped working, resulting in wrongful denial of public records requests and abusive delays by federal agencies without any meaningful consequences.
And so the oddly-if-optimistically titled "Openness Promotes Effectiveness in Our National Government Act of 2007" (OPEONGA?) is moving through the US Senate, with support from AWB national partners the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. It would among other things provide tight deadlines for complying with records requests, provide consequences for wrongful denial, and establish an ombudsman to resolve disputes.
This may be deja vu for Open Government watchers in Washington. We've been through much the same debate over our own Public Disclosure Act the last few legislative sessions. Attorney General Rob McKenna has made a cause celebre of bringing more sunshine to government, making public records requests more user friendly, and putting place our own state open government ombudsman. Progress in this regard, which has been substantial, is nicely cataloged on his website.
Personally-identifying information and private commercial information in the hands of state regulators ought to be shielded for important policy reasons. But beyond that, sunshine in government state and federal -- is essential to accountability. A wag put it best recently, saying, "the era of 'trust me' government is over."