When signing the landmark Freedom of Information Act into law 40 years ago, on the symbolic date of July 4, President Lyndon Johnson was not a happy camper. New documents from LBJ's library show the extent to which he opposed the law, and -- in a move foreshadowing a favorite tactic of the current President -- how he sought to undercut its import and reach with a restrictive signing statement. (See here and here.)
This revelation and the anniversary of FOIA give us cause to reflect on the state of information access in New York. As the Committee on Open Government's 2005 Report to the Governor and the State Legislature indicates, New York still has a ways to go in strengthening Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws. Sensible reforms can promote accountability, transparency, efficiency, and public participation, without endangering privacy or national security.
Yet New Yorkers can feel proud of at least one aspect of New York's information-access policies: the Committee on Open Government itself, a quasi-governmental body responsible for overseeing the implementation of relevant laws. In the Committee, New York has hit on an innovative, progressive model for enabling the public's right to know. Of course, not even the strongest open-government laws would truly let New Yorkers know how policies are made if "three men in a room" were to decide everything on their own, outside of any systematic scheme, in private fora. But that would never happen here ...