Writing to my senator.

That’s right, I am becoming involved in the political process.

“What’s this?” you ask. “Jessica cares about what’s going on in the world around her?”

Of course I do.

Sort of.

For the political science class I’m taking online, I’m required to write a letter to one of my congressmen about an issue that concerns me.

I racked my brain for ideas, because I wanted the issue to be something I personally had a problem with, not something I just pulled out of my current events hat.

I mean, I could do something generic like rising college costs, the health system, Iraq…but there are 60 other people in this class, all of whom have to write to the same congressmen. I’m sure the topics I named above have already been addressed by one of them.

Besides, I like being original.

So I’m writing to the senator about the Freedom of Information Act and the latest thing around that (basically, that there are still requests from years ago, one before I was born, that still haven’t been fulfilled). I feel as a journalist, and as a citizen, that the violation must be addressed, and according to what I’ve read, the process has been stalled in, lo and behold, the senate (thank you weekly SPJ newsletter for keeping me informed on stuff like this).

I’m trying to make myself not sound like an ass as I write it…more research is inevitable, I think. It’s due in about three hours, so I should get on it.

In other news:
My mother’s making me watch Oprah. This man is psychologically analyzing why people have clutter (like me). And seriously? I really don’t think that it’s as deep as they’re making it sound. I really don’t think that my messiness as a person mean that I have some dark, underlying secret about not being able to let go of my past, etc., etc. But that’s just me.

Final draft of the letter

In the latest newsletter from the Society of Professional Journalists, the lead headline read, “FOIA Foibles.” It went on to detail the survey done by the National Security Archive, revealing that requests made because of the Freedom of Information Act are still pending, the oldest from 1987.

Out of the 87 agencies that were reviewed, five of them – the State Department, Air Force, CIA and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and FBI – reported having pending requests from the last 15 years. Ten agencies misreported their oldest pending requests in their fiscal 2006 Annual Freedom of Information Acts Requests.

The text of the Freedom of Information Act, which went into effect in 1967, reads clearly that “failure by an agency to respond in a timely manner to such a request shall be subject to judicial review.”

As a journalism student and a citizen, I feel that a violation of the act inhibits my personal ability to learn more about what happens in the government. With the recent release of the “family jewels,” the CIA files that detail the agency’s secret dealings during the 1960’s and 1970’s, citizens are left to question what could be going on in today’s government. In order for people to make informed decisions when voting during elections and when lobbying the government, they need to understand the entire situation, not just parts of it – which is where the Freedom of Information Act plays its important role.

I am aware that there are bipartisan efforts in Congress to solve some of the problems revealed in the survey, and that these efforts have been stalled in the U.S. Senate, with Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona holding the bill S. 849, which is “to promote accessibility, accountability, and openness in Government.” The U.S. House of Representatives passed its amendments to the Freedom of Information Act with a bipartisan majority. I hope that the Senate will soon be able to do the same, and that you as the Senate Majority Leader will continue to push for the bill’s passage.

In a press release from the National Security Archive, Eric Newton, vice president of the journalism program at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, asked, “Americans once said they had the best open government laws in the world. Is that still true?”

I hope that you will be able to prove it is.


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