We can anticipate FOIA requests for oil spill documents. Why can’t agencies?

The oil spill in the gulf is lubricating the engines of lawsuits.  The Chicago Tribune reports that BP has hired a law firm to defend itself against what appears to be years if not decades of litigation.

And one could reasonably assume that with the national disaster will also come document requests.

Each agency with a hand in the gulf oil spill should set up a special public file online to deposit studies, correspondence and other information related to the government’s handling of this particular drilling operation.   In fact, back in 1996 Congress required agencies to do precisely that if they reasonably anticipated multiple FOIA requests to come for  the same information.  But this law has been widely ignored.

Or they could pool resources and follow the DocumentCloud model by copying documents that would be released in response to a FOIA request about the oil spill into a public vault where the public could view it.?

To be practical, the agencies could each day post documents they produce in response to the spill. The information would still be subject to a FOIA request, but since the agencies would have the telling documents online, fewer FOIA requests would arrive in their inboxes and they could focus on recovering the information they missed.

By building in access to the documents related to the spill response as the agencies are working on them (with limited redactions to protect personal privacy and other interests protected by FOIA), agencies would save future taxpayer dollars and the agency’s time as it goes back to reconstruct its actions in response to future FOIA requests.

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