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Federal Agencies who balk at releasing documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act face penalties under new bi-partisan legislation. Today's (July6th) Washington Post has a good write up by Brian Faler titledOpenness law may get muscle.(registration required)

A political odd couple, backed by an unusual coalition of advocacy groups and news organizations, is looking to crack down on government officials who ignore public requests for information.

Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) are pushing a package of legislative proposals that would create, for the first time, penalties for agencies that ignore Freedom of Information Act requests. They also want to create a position for an independent arbiter -- an ombudsman for FOIA -- who would help referee conflicts between the public and the government while requiring departments to provide more information on how quickly they process requests.

"A number of the reforms included in these bills are pretty basic in a lot of places," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). "In Washington," he added, "there's no real presumption of openness." (By Joe Raedle -- Getty Images

"A number of the reforms included in these bills are pretty basic in a lot of places, including my home state of Texas," said Cornyn, a former state attorney general. "In Washington, there's no real presumption of openness in the culture. If you're persistent enough and you're willing to wait long enough, you might actually get what you're entitled to. But there seems to be very few incentives . . . to encourage timely compliance with FOIA requests."

The push -- the first in years -- comes as the act, signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966, marks its 39th year. The law replaced sections of the Administrative Procedures Act that required those wanting information to explain why they needed it. FOIA shifted the burden to the government, requiring it to explain why a request should not be granted.

Questions for debate.

1.)Considering that 92% of FOIA requests were approved last year, is this bill truly needed?

2.)Will national security be compromised in the name of freedom of information?

3.)Do you believe that FOIA was a good thing?
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