In one of his last executive actions of the year, President Bush signed into law the “OPEN Government Act of 2007
on December 31, 2007. The Senate unanimously passed the reform bill
earlier in December, and it passed the House of Representatives by
voice vote on December 18. The Associated Press is reporting that Bush signed the bill without comment.

As I explained in a post on the Citizen Media Law Project’s blog two weeks ago, the legislation substantially reforms the Freedom of
Information Act and expands the definition of who is a “representative
of the news media” under FOIA. This change would significantly benefit
bloggers and non-traditional journalists by making them eligible for
reduced processing and duplication fees that are available to
“representatives of the news media.”  The new law accomplishes this by
adding the following language to FOIA:

[T]he term ‘a representative of the news
media’ means any person or entity that gathers information of potential
interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn
the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an
audience. In this clause, the term ‘news’ means information that is
about current events or that would be of current interest to the
public. Examples of news-media entities are television or radio
stations broadcasting to the public at large and publishers of
periodicals (but only if such entities qualify as disseminators of
‘news’) who make their products available for purchase by or
subscription by or free distribution to the general public. These
examples are not all-inclusive. Moreover, as methods of news delivery
evolve (for example, the adoption of the electronic dissemination of
newspapers through telecommunications services), such alternative media
shall be considered to be news-media entities.

Other important reforms include:

  • Broadening the scope of information that can be requested by
    including government contracting information held by private
    contractors;
  • Assigning public tracking numbers to all requests;
  • Denying agencies
    that exceed the 20-day deadline for responses the right
    to charge requesters for search or copying costs;
  • Making it easier to collect attorneys’ fees for those who must sue to force compliance with their FOIA requests; and
  • Establishing
    an office at the National Archives to accept citizen complaints, issue
    opinions on requests, and foster best practices within the government.

The full text of the OPEN Government Act of 2007 is available here. The press release announcing the President’s signing is available on the White House website.