President Bush has signed into law the first legislation in more than a decade to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. The Open Government Act of 2007, signed by Bush on New Years eve, contains several important changes and improvements to the Freedom of Information Act.

The new law establishes enforceable deadlines for agencies to process FOIA requests; extends FOIA’s reach to certain records maintained by government contractors; establishes an ombudsman to resolve disputes; creates a FOIA tracking system; restores provisions for recovery of attorneys fees by FOIA litigants who successfully prevail in court, including cases where there is a voluntary or unilateral change in the government’s position after filing of the lawsuit, so long as the FOIA requester’s claim is not insubstantial; and requires that any award of attorneys fees be paid out of an agency’s budget and not the Treasury Department’s judgment fund.

Legislative improvements to FOIA were long overdue and the Open Government Act of 2007 is intended to speed up citizen access to government information. The Freedom of Information Act is an essential tool to assist whistleblowers, journalists, citizens and watchdog groups discover what their government is up to and provide outside oversight of government activities.

A copy of the Open Government Act of 2007 is linked here