Sen. James R. Sasser (D-Tenn.) said yesterday that the biggest problems with the Freedom of Information Act stem from the absence of clear, concise, government-wide standards for implementing it.
He suggested a series of improvements growing out of oversight hearings he conducted last year when he was chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee on intergovernmental relations.
Sasser said those sessions convinced him that "there is no need to overhaul the statute drastically" despite the current pressures for broad-scale revision.
Most of the 25 recommendations he offered, from uniform fee schedules to a government-wide review of all implementing rules and regulations, could be carried out administratively, Sasser said.
He also proposed a congressional review of all the secrecy provisions in other laws, with the aim of re-enacting those worth keeping as specific exceptions to the Freedom of Information Act itself. Any new exceptions should also be adopted as changes in the FOIA and not tacked onto other laws, he said.
"The freedom of information statute is turning into Swiss cheese," said a Sasser aide. "The exemptions in other laws covering certain kinds of information total probably around 200 now, but who knows? They haven't been codified."
Sasser made his recommendations in a 65-page "personal report" growing out of last year's hearings. It strongly suggested that executive branch complaints about the law be taken with a grain of salt.
"Indeed, the whole history of this law reflects a high degree of bipartisan congressional support for it and an equal amount of bipartisan executive branch opposition to it," Sasser said.
"Congress," he argued, "has been and, in view of executive branch distaste for the Freedom of Information Act, must continue to be the champion of this statute."