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Price of freedom of information

From the Editor

According to Cronyn, “Citizens have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing and political operatives should not be interfering with legitimate requests by citizens and journalists under the Freedom of Information Act.”

When Congress reconvenes in a few weeks, the Leahy-Cronyn Faster FOIA will be reintroduced to the Congress. It’s hard to imagine the House’s Republican majority in rejecting the measure. Most Democrats appear on board.

According to a recent editorial in the Battle Creek (Mich.) Inquirer, “The bill seeks to create an advisory panel that would examine the reasons behind the backlog in FOIA requests and recommend to Congress how the process can be expedited. Whether the legislation will actually result in more timely replies to FOIA requests is unknown, but at least it will give lawmakers a little more leverage in pushing agencies to respond.”

In the case of FOIA to date, the price of freedom of information doesn’t come cheap—it costs Uncle Sam nearly $500 million every year to process FOIA requests. However, now is not the time to use budget-slashing as an excuse to abandon the democratic principles of FOIA.

Cronyn gives the best reason for assuring timely FOIA requests before the 2012 election: “I am deeply disturbed that Obama administration political operatives have filtered FOIA requests based on the political or professional affiliation of those requesting the transparency guaranteed to our citizens under federal law. And I commend the House panel for doing its job of oversight of the executive branch, and I hope they get to the bottom of these allegations.”

On a state level, Vermont is making some progress in providing access to information.

Now Vermont citizens can find out the names of vendors selling goods and services to state government and the amounts of their transactions.

The State of Vermont Transparency site—www.vttransparency.org—allows viewers to see over 121,000 vendor transactions. The cost to citizens to see the data: zero.

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