(AP) Republican Sen. John Cornyn said Wednesday there is broad support for a bill to create a panel to study the federal Freedom of Information Act, but real reforms could run into trouble.
“I think we’re going to have a bigger fight on our hands,” the former Texas attorney general said in speech to the Press Club of Dallas.
The bill, sponsored by Cornyn and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., would create a 16-member panel that would recommend ways to speed information requests. The bill passed committee March 17 and was sent to the Senate floor for debate.
Cornyn said his colleagues haven’t been so accepting of legislation that puts teeth in the 1966 act.
“I think that’s going to take a little more time,” he told The Associated Press.
The measure would create an ombudsman to settle records disputes, which are currently resolved in court, with the Justice Department defending the agencies.
It would also require agencies to give people seeking documents a tracking number within 10 days and to set up telephone or Internet systems allowing them to learn the status and estimated completion date. Agencies that didn’t respond within 20 days would lose many of the exemptions to FOIA requests, and could be forced to pay attorney fees.
There are currently no penalties for agencies that fail to respond in 20 days.
Cornyn said even if the reform bill doesn’t get support, creating the advisory panel is a good place to start.
“This may sound like baby steps, and it is in many ways,” he said. “But I’ve found in Washington we may need to start with baby steps.”