On January 22nd, this blog reported on President Bush’s signing of the Open Government Act. One of the features of this Act was to create a Office of Government Information Services within the National Archives and Records Administration to oversee government compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.
Senator Patrick Leahy and other government advocates are protesting President Bush’s budget proposal that repeals placing this office in the National Archives and instead places it under the control of the Justice Department. Critics say this is a conflict of interest in that the Justice Department would also be charged with defending federal agencies that are seeking to keep records secret in any dispute over releasing government records. The White House, through it’s spokesman, says that the National Archives has limited experience in dealing with FOIA requests and should stick to its role of storing and preserving federal records.
For my part, I would rather take a chance on the Archive’s potential inexperience than rely on the Department of Justice to both regulate the agencies and mediate disputes. This is not only a grave conflict of interest but also a large step back in the process of maintaining an open records policy.