SEJ has joined a number of open-government groups in urging President Bush to post online full copies of all contracts and other paperwork authorizing spending for relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina.
Various officials and media have already raised concerns about waste and favoritism in award of some $62.3 billion already authorized by Congress for post-Katrina relief. The groups urged President Bush to make the process transparent so that taxpayers, states, and news media can oversee the effectiveness of hurricane response.
The letter was organized by OMB Watch, an open-government group, and the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government (CJOG), a media-access umbrella group. Some 47 groups, including many media groups and newspapers, had signed it as of Nov. 15, 2005.
Besides SEJ, groups signing the letter included the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Associated Press Managing Editors, Association of Health Care Journalists, Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, California First Amendment Coalition, Center for Public Integrity, Education Writers Association, Louisiana Weekly Publishing Co. Inc., McMinnville News-Register, National Freedom of Information Coalition, The News-Star (Monroe, LA), Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The Shreveport Times (LA), and Society of Professional Journalists.
The groups cited a key provision in the Freedom of Information Act which they said required online posting of the information. 5 USC 552(a)(2)(D) requires agencies to post copies of all released records "the agency determines have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records." The groups said that this so-called "reading room provision" of the 1986 "electronic FOIA" amendments requires agencies to post online "any document that can reasonably be expected to have broad public interest" when not exempt.
"With the federal government spending so much so quickly, opportunities for waste and fraud abound," the groups wrote. "To help find and stop misuse of taxpayer dollars, Congress, reporters, and the public must be informed of how the dollars are spent."