Our country stands on the right to know.
Citizens can question the government and access certain federal agency documents. However, the government has allowed darkness to hover over these rights by not responding to such inquiries within a legally set time frame.
Under The Freedom of Information Act, citizens can see federal agency documents unless they fall under the act’s nine exemptions. Legally, agencies must respond to a record request within 20 days, but unfortunately they have fallen short.
Sadly, five agencies have requests 15 years older or more, and 10 agencies gave Congress incorrect information regarding their oldest pending requests, according to the 2007 Knight Open Government Survey.
Citizens need to know about the government’s severe lack of promptness because it marks the start of a downward spiral.
Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) did something constructive about it by introducing the OPEN Government Act of 2007.
“This legislation will provide the American people more information and make our great democracy even stronger . that our government is based not on the need to know, but upon the fundamental right to know,” Cornyn said on his Web site.
Under the act, agencies must put a tracking number on each request, so the requester can follow its progress. If an agency fails to do this within 20 days, it must face severe consequences, which include the inability to assert any of the FOIA exemptions except in the case of national security and disclosure of private facts.
The act offers hope that it will illuminate the darkness. The Senate has passed the bill, and Americans can take responsibility in holding their government accountable by writing their congressman in approval of the bill.
To find your congressman, go to the House of Representatives Web site at www.house.gov, find his address, and encourage him to vote “yes” on this bill.