Thursday, March 26, 2009

Federal government says it will be more open

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered all federal agencies to be more open in the release of information, reversing Bush-era policies and following the directive of President Barack Obama.

Holder issued a memo to agency heads citing the administration’s “commitment to open government,” and telling them to administer the Freedom of Information Act with a “clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”

“An agency should not withhold information simply because it may do so legally,” Holder wrote. “I strongly encourage agencies to make discretionary disclosures of information.” He added that if an agency decides it cannot make full disclosure of requested information, it must consider making partial disclosure.

Holder rescinded rules set by the Bush administration that arguably encouraged the withholding of information. He substituted rules against withholding unless there is foreseeable harm or disclosure is prohibited by law. He also ordered that the new rules be applied to existing FOIA requests, of which there is a backlog.

"By restoring the presumption of disclosure that is at the heart of the Freedom of Information Act, we are making a critical change that will restore the public's ability to access information in a timely manner,” Holder said. “The American people have the right to information about their government's activities, and these new guidelines will ensure they are able to obtain that information under principles of openness and transparency."

The memo was issued during Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of open government and freedom of information laws. For the full text, click here.

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