FOIA Ombudsman gets $1 million

The budget President Obama just signed includes one million dollars for the new Office of Government Information Services, which will be housed in the National Archives that is charged with serving as a government wide ombudsman for the Freedom of Information Act process.

Gary Stern, the Archives’ general counsel, speaking in January before a Washington College of Law-sponsored conference on freedom of information, made it clear that the agency was expecting an initial appropriation of that amount, and said that most of the funds would go towards the office’s director and a half dozen support staff.

The Bush administration had, despite the explicit intent of congress, signed a quiet budget provision in an attempt to put the office within the branch of the Justice Department charged with defending the government’s FOIA decisions, and provided it with no funding. Outside advocates and members of Congress members who’d worked on creating OGIS not surprisingly viewed this as a rather naked conflict of interest and an attempt to neuter the office.

“This was an explicit rejection of the proposal to put OGIS over in Justice,” said Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of press groups that helped push to create the office. “So we’re happy.”

“This is not a surprise,” said Blum. “But now it’s law.”

The Archives has suggested that the office could be up and running, in some form, by the end of 2009.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.