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Obama weighs in on 'Sunshine Week'

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 12:05 p.m. ET
It's Sunshine Week, an annual attempt by good government groups and news organizations to promote better access to government information. The week started with a critical report suggesting the Obama administration's first year of efforts to improve access to government information have yielded mixed results.

In a statement, President Obama applauded his administration's efforts to become "the most open and transparent ever."

"We came to Washington to change the way business was done, and part of that was making ourselves accountable to the American people by opening up our government," Obama said.

"We are proud of these accomplishments, but our work is not done. We will continue to work toward an unmatched level of transparency, participation and accountability across the entire Administration," he said.

Those words were matched with a White House memo issued Tuesday that reminds agencies to redouble their efforts to reduce the government's backlog of freedom of information requests.

"You should update all FOIA guidance and training materials to include the principles articulated in the President’s Memorandum," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House Counsel Bob Bauer wrote in the memo. "Second, you should assess whether you are devoting adequate resources to responding to FOIA requests promptly and cooperatively, consistent with the requirements for addressing this Presidential priority."

Emanuel's extra push comes as the study by the National Security Archives suggested only a third of agencies that handle FOIA requests have made significant changes since President Obama ordered changes last year.

Meanwhile lawmakers will introduce at least two bills this week designed to shine more light on the governing process.

On Tuesday Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) will introduce the Public Online Information Act, which would require that all “public” executive branch documents be online and searchable. Israel's bill is backed by the Sunlight Foundation, one of the major good government groups pushing for better access to government data.

Then there's a bill by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas.) that would establish an advisory panel to examine the ongoing backlog of freedom of information requests at federal agencies. The group would provide Congress with ideas on how to speed up the FOIA process. The pair first introduced the measure five years ago.

Let's see whether these bills have much life beyond this week. Thoughts? Leave them in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 16, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Congress  
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