The Sunshine in Government Initiative hailed as a "milestone" Congress' approval of $1 million in the 2009 budget to fund the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).
The OGIS is part of an effort to make the government more responsive to FOIA requests from journalists and ordinary citizens. It will mediate disputes over requests to help ease the process and avoid expensive trips to court by media companies seeking to get the process going.
The office was established as part of a FOIA reform bill that passed the Congress in fall 2007. The bill put more teeth in enforcement, clarifying deadlines for responding to requests, imposing penalties for missing deadlines, clarifying that requests also apply to outside contractors holding government documents and establishing a system for tracking requests.
"For too many years, government transparency has been in crisis," said Rick Blum, coordinator for the Sunshine in Government Initiative in a statement. "As we celebrate Sunshine Week next week, journalists, bloggers and average citizens can celebrate knowing this office will soon help ensure requests for data and documents get a fair hearing. OGIS should help end stalemates and lengthy delays when faced with controversies over disclosure decisions. This investment will help agencies strengthen their responses to FOIA requests."
The initiative is a coalition of the National Association of Broadcasters, the Radio-Television News Directors Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Associated Press, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, the National Newspaper Association and the Newspaper Association of America.
The Obama administration has also pledged to be more responsive to FOIA requests than the previous administration ().