Bush signs order streamlining FOIA process

President Bush today signed an executive order aimed at streamlining the processing for Freedom of Information Act queries by requiring agencies to establish a top official for handling FOIA requests.

Under the order, agencies within 30 days must establish a chief FOIA officer who will be responsible for making them respond to FOIA requests more quickly and efficiently.

Agencies must submit a plan of action to the Attorney General and the Office of Management and Budget within six months, and that plan must also be posted on agency Web sites. The plan must be implemented over the next year, the executive order added.

The FOIA process allows members of the public to request documents and information that are related to government decisions and practices. Typically, each agency handles FOIA requests differently. Response times vary and, as technology has changed, Congress has explored whether changes to the FOIA process are needed as well.

The executive order fits in with the administration's efforts to create a 'citizen-centered and results-oriented' approach to governance, the order said, by giving citizens easier FOIA access.

'Agencies shall process requests under the FOIA in an efficient and appropriate manner and achieve tangible, measurable improvements in FOIA processing,' the executive order said. 'When an agency's FOIA program does not produce such results, it should be reformed consistent with available resources appropriated by the Congress and applicable law, to increase efficiency and better reflect the policy goals and objectives of this order.'

House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) applauded Bush's actions and said he'd be closely watching agency compliance with the order.

'Although the debate on the appropriate balance between open government and protected records will continue, as chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over FOIA and government information policy, I will monitor the agencies as these changes unfold to determine whether additional reform is needed,' Davis said.

Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.), who chairs the Government Reform panel's Management, Finance and Accountability Subcommittee, held hearings on the FOIA process and echoed Davis' sentiments.

'This puts a service-oriented focus on FOIA,' Platts said. 'It is a good start. By improving the operational aspect of FOIA compliance, we will be in a better position to look at any policy changes that might be needed.'

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