January 21, 2009
Citizens and journalists seeking information from the federal government will likely have an easier time of it, thanks to an order from U.S. President Barack Obama.
Obama told government agencies Wednesday to err on the side of releasing information whenever possible, instead of withholding it. Obama said that when agencies respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, they should lean toward openness rather than secrecy. He said that if an agency finds legal justification to withhold information, the agency is not necessarily obligated to withhold the information. Obama promised that, when his administration believes there is reason to withhold information, it would consult with lawyers to make sure there is good reason to keep the information out of the public's view. "Information will not be withheld just because I said so," Obama said during a press conference Wednesday. "It will be withheld because a separate authority believes it is well-founded in the Constitution." The National Security Archive at George Washington University was among several organizations to criticize the federal government for its secrecy over the last several years. Archive reports stated that just one in five federal agencies complied with 10-year-old legislation to supply information online. A report from the University of Michigan last year found that more citizens were dissatisfied with the federal government's Web sites in 2008 than they had been in 2007. The American Customer Satisfaction Index on E-Government Satisfaction did say that some dissatisfaction could have been a result of delays as government agencies waited for signals on whether the next president would promote expanded access to government records online.
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