"President Barack Obama's new standards of openness in the federal government have not trickled down to some of its agencies, where officials have used special statutes inserted into bills to skirt the Freedom of Information Act, open government advocates said Wednesday.
Efforts to strengthen the 42-year-old law "have been hampered by the increasing use of legislative exemptions that are often sneaked into legislation without debate or public scrutiny," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said in remarks prepared for a hearing on the issue.
News organizations and media groups said new legislation was needed to limit the information agencies may keep secret and for how long.
"The secrecy reflex at some agencies remains firmly in place," and FOIA still contains relatively weak penalties for those that don't meet their disclosure obligations, Tom Curley, president and CEO of The Associated Press, said in prepared testimony to the committee.
"We appreciate the change in policy direction, but the change hasn't yet reached the street," said Curley, testifying on behalf of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of media groups.
The hearing is the first status report on a new Office of Government Information Services, created by Congress earlier this year at the National Archives and Records Administration to review the government's compliance with open government laws and to mediate disputes with the public."
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