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The Freedom of Information Act: Building on Steady Progress

As Sunshine Week begins, we take the opportunity to size up the federal government’s progress in implementing the President's directives on openness and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Ed. Note: Records show that agencies have indeed made disclosure through FOIA a priority this past year. Learn more about the Justice Department's latest annual reports.

Sunshine Week is a welcome opportunity to size up the federal government’s progress in implementing the President and the Attorney General’s directives on openness and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I’m glad to report that Agencies have made a lot of progress over the past year.

Many agencies — including the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and Health and Human Services, among many others — have taken concrete steps to improve their administration of FOIA.

Their efforts are collected at a new website dedicated to the Act,  Launched on the first day of Sunshine Week by the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP), provides detailed information about agencies’ FOIA activities, including important steps agencies around the government have taken to improve their FOIA architecture. also provides ordinary citizens with basic information about FOIA and instructions about how to make a FOIA request. is itself a testimony to the Administration’s commitment to FOIA.   

And because greater disclosure of information through FOIA requires investment over the long term, the Administration is announcing additional steps during Sunshine Week to promote FOIA’s implementation further, including:

  • A New Federal Job Title
    Today, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will allow agencies to use a new federal job title, FOIA Officer or FOIA Specialist, to designate agency staff committed to the administration of FOIA.  OPM will also initiate a process to create a new job series for FOIA and other information professionals, so that agencies may more effectively recruit staff focused on FOIA. Learn more about the memos issued by OPM here.
  • A New Series of “Requester Roundtables”
    Bringing together the FOIA requester community with federal agencies, the Office of Information Policy (OIP), in cooperation with the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), will begin a new series of “Requester Roundtables,”. These regular roundtables will address specified issues of interest to the requester community, and facilitate FOIA practices best suited to requesters’ needs.  OIP and OGIS will also provide agencies as well as requesters with best practices, specifically in the area of “complex” FOIA requests, to better match requesters’ needs with agencies’ capabilities. 
  • A New Tool for Agencies to Process Requests
    Agencies that require greater FOIA capacity on an episodic basis, to respond to unexpected spikes in FOIA requests for example, will also have a new tool at their disposal in 2011.  The General Services Administration will undertake to amend its "Office, Imaging and Document Solution" Schedule 36 to provide a mechanism for agencies to acquire new technology, technical assistance and resources to assist with processing FOIA requests. 

Meanwhile, agencies will continue to disclose information proactively, as the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency, among many others, have already done.

During upcoming weeks, agencies will proactively post on their Open Government web pages agency directories, so that citizens can more easily identify agency offices to meet their needs.  In additional, agencies will also post official congressional testimony and agency reports to Congress required by statute, so that the public has better access to communications between agencies and the legislative branch.  And over the next year, following the President’s Memorandum of January 18, 2011, agencies will proactively provide information about their regulatory compliance and enforcement activities, so that the public can hold both regulated parties and agencies themselves more accountable.

In these ways and more, agencies will continue to continue to provide still greater information through FOIA, wherever the law and sound policy allow.