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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

US FOI gongs for champion, and dud agency

Two awards coinciding with US Sunshine Week are worth a mention.

The National Security Archive at George Washington University announced that the US Air Force had been "awarded" this year's Rosemary Award for the worst Freedom of Information Act performance by a Federal agency.

The award is named after Rosemary Woods, President Nixon’s secretary who testified in 1974, that a backwards-leaning stretch while seated at her desk resulted in the “inadvertent” erasure of eighteen and a half minutes from the audio tape of a key Watergate conversation in the President’s White House office.

The Air Force, according to a US District Court finding last year, had failed miserably to meet FOI Act deadlines, had 139 broken links on its FOIA websites and had lost various records while processing requests.

A fax number for one Air Force component listed on the Air Force FOI website as the place to send requests was not a fax number at all - it was the phone number for a patient room in a base hospital at Wright Patterson Air Base in Ohio.

On a more positive note: The American Library Association's James Madison Award for those who "have championed, protected and promoted public access to information and the public's right to know", was awarded to Paul McMasters, the first Executive Director of The First Amendment Center and who was instrumental in establishing the annual FOI Day Conference.

While we don't have Australian equivalents, feel free to nominate an FOI champion or FOI laggard.

We could call our Rosemary, "The Alexander", after Alexander Downer, Australia's Foreign Minister, who vigorously claimed "we knew nothing" despite the fact that 35 separate messages were received by his Department alerting the Government to accusations that the Australian Wheat Board had paid bribes to Saddam Hussein's government, contrary to the UN sanctions.

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