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Controversy is brewing over where in the federal government Freedom of Information Act requests will end up. Just weeks after President George W. Bush signed a revamped FOIA into law on Dec. 31, word got out that budget crunchers were considering shifting $6 million from the National Archives and Records Administration to the Justice Department to house a future FOIA ombudsman’s office, named the Office of Government Information Services. Last week, Attorney General Michael Mukasey pledged to look into concerns by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) — who co-sponsored the original bill — that the White House is flouting the intent of the law. Leahy said the National Archives is the proper venue for the future office because “it’s the one place that stays as far away as possible from politics, the [Justice] Department, and our government.” The idea also has rattled open-government advocates, who complain that the move will compromise FOIA requests because the Justice Department is often embroiled in litigation against those seeking data and had opposed the amendments to FOIA. Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says the Justice Department “has a bit of a conflict” in housing the future ombudsman’s office because “Justice, in many instances, defends these cases when the government is sued.” A DOJ spokesman referred questions to the White House Office of Management and Budget. An OMB spokesman says reports of a shift were “purely speculative” before the administration’s final budget is released on Feb. 4.
Pedro Ruz Gutierrez can be contacted at [email protected].

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