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Public's right to know--a little more

Getting government information just got a little easier. Unfortunately, it may not be the information you're looking for.

Getting government information just got a little easier. Unfortunately, it may not be the information you're looking for.

President Clinton has signed into law a bill that updates the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), giving the public electronic access to government documents, some of which can take up to two years to process if requested on paper.

While the "Electronic FOIA" updates the existing bill so that federal records may be released to the public via the Internet, computer disks, or CD-ROM, critics complain that the bill does not go far enough.

The EFOIA bill simply makes information already available to the public easier to receive by allowing it to be distributed through media that didn't even exist when the original law was passed 30 years ago.

"This bill is a good start, but it contains some major gaps," Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, said today.

Ruskin recently fought to pass House Resolution 478, a measure that would give the public the right to access government information beyond what is already available, including travel expense reports, committee votes, and hearing transcripts. The resolution recently was killed by Congress, but Ruskin plans to continue his fight during the "next round of battles."

Ruskin attributes the failure of the more wide-ranging bill to committee chairs who don't want citizens to have access to inside information. "Members of Congress don't like to be held accountable for their actions, but we deserve to know what's really going on," he said.

The California State Senate's Elections Committee killed a similar bill in August that would have required California state candidates to file their political campaign records online. The bill is set to come up for review next year.