Open government gets slower

Agencies take longer and longer to comply with FOIA requests, limiting the usefulness of the law for news organizations.

Federal agencies are taking longer to answer Freedom of Information Act requests, the Government Accounting Office says, with 24 percent of requests being held over from 2004 to 2005. According to an AP story, that's a substantial worsening of performance. Only 11 percent were held over from 2003 to 2004.

The Act is in pressing need of reform, witnesses at a House committee hearing on the law said, both because of 9/11 and because of the slowness of agency response.

"Federal departments and agencies are operating in the post 9/11 information age and face 21st Century security, information management and resource challenges," said Rep. Todd Russell Platts, R-Pa.

But a press representative said more openness and more responsiveness is needed.

Tonda Rush, representing the National Newspaper Association and The Sunshine in Government Initiative, said the open records law "has become less reliable, less effective and a less timely vehicle for informing the public of government activities and newsworthy stories."

Rush said that only Congress can fix the most pressing improvements that the act needs: lack of alternatives to litigation to resolve disputes; the lack of incentives for agencies to speed responses, and excessive court costs caused by unwarranted denials.