PRESS RELEASE: Media coalition asks every Senator to support FOIA reform ahead of 2016 Sunshine Week

A coalition of media groups today urged every U.S. Senator to support legislation that establishes a presumption of openness in law, encourages agencies to use public-friendly technology, and makes other changes to the way agencies respond to requests for information from the public. The Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI) sent a letter to every senator encouraging support for legislation that would improve the way federal agencies respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. “These changes would help ensure the government discloses information the way Congress intended a half century ago when Congress enacted the original Freedom of Information Act,” [More]

New OGIS leadership off to a good start with agency FOIA reviews

Recently, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) began conducting compliance reviews of agency FOIA operations and posting its findings online, to share with the public and with other agencies. These no-nonsense analyses involve examining agency annual FOIA reports, interviewing FOIA personnel, and surveying agency staff; the idea is to accumulate institutional knowledge and refract it back through agencies to make FOIA work better. Notably, OGIS sharpened its reviewing skills at home, starting at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which underwent the inaugural reviews (here, and here). Now, the Department of Homeland Security, as the agency with the highest [More]

Agency delays hamper FOIA, AP’s general counsel tells Senate

 PRESS RELEASE & TESTIMONY   Agency delays hamper FOIA, media coalition witness tells Senate AP general counsel tells Senate panel agencies are nonresponsive and withhold rather than disclose, while requesters have little effective recourse. Note: The written testimony will be available through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Federal agencies avoid disclosing information in a timely manner under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) most often by simply not responding and by leaning toward withholding over disclosing information, giving requesters little effective recourse other than going to court, the general counsel for The Associated Press (AP) told the Senate Judiciary Committee on [More]

OGIS’s “Final Response Letters” Go Behind the Scenes

We’re glad to see that OGIS has begun posting its “Final Response Letters”, in which the office explains what FOIA requesters have sought from agencies, what OGIS has done to help requesters, and how agencies have reacted. Although OGIS has only posted 26 letters so far, we can start to see some trends among the requests, denials, appeals, and reviews. First, OGIS has been able to provide assistance in the form of increased information, or education, or both, in nearly every case listed. In over half of the cases described, OGIS was able to obtain additional information the requester(s) had [More]

Getting serious about FOIA reform

Washington is getting serious about FOIA reform. The House primed the pump before Sunshine Week by passing The FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014 (H.R. 1211), on a recorded vote of 410-0, building on FOIA’s non-partisan history and burgeoning bipartisan momentum. The Senate has kept it going with a Judiciary Committee hearing.

#FOIAsurvey update re: FOIAonline

Our efforts to survey federal agencies (@sgichris, #FOIAsurvey) about FOIAonline are starting to bear fruit. We have put out feelers to most of the forty agencies and departments responsible for over 99% of FOIA requests each year, and we can identify some trends: There is definitely more interest. We had expected as much, since the FOIAonline portal offers distinct benefits for individual agencies and requesters, as well as members of each group in the aggregate, but it’s nice to have this recognized by additional agency FOIA personnel. There are plenty of existing contracts. Which is how things should be; we’re [More]

FOIA Online goes live; new tool to track FOIA requests, responses

Journalists who regularly use the federal FOIA will complain bitterly about lost requests, long delays and agency responses that give no indication whether and when the agency will actually turn over documents.  But a new system that went live October 1 promises to make it easier on agencies and requesters alike to keep track of requests and make the FOIA process more efficient. The new system, called FOIA Online, allows anyone to search pending FOIA requests and documents already released as the result of previous FOIA requests, submit a new FOIA request to an agency, track requests, see the status [More]

Prospects for mediation at OGIS

The OPEN Government Act of 2007, which amended the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and created the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), set out two tasks for the fledgling agency in the new section (h). First, OGIS is expected to review administrative agencies’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) policies, procedures, and compliance – and use what it learns to propose policy changes to Congress and the President. (As we blogged about last month.) Second, and central to this analysis, OGIS is expected to “offer mediation services… as a non-exclusive alternative to [FOIA] litigation.” Mediation services, as OGIS explained, includes [More]