Outdated Agency Regs Undermine Freedom of Information

  • Majority of Agencies Have Not Updated FOIA Rules to Meet Either Obama’s 2009 Order or Congress’s 2007 Law;
  • Second Term Obama Opportunity to Direct Agencies to Adopt Regulations for Open Government;
  • New National Security Archive Audit Covers 99 Federal Agencies, Previous Knight Open Government Surveys Showed Mixed Results.

Published on National Security Archive NSA, by Tom Blanton / Nate Jones / Lauren Harper, December 4, 2012.  

… A government-wide Freedom of Information Act audit by the National Security Archive has found that sixty-two out of ninety-nine government agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations since US Attorney General Eric Holder issued his March 19, 2009 FOIA memorandum to all heads of executive departments instructing them to make discretionary FOIA releases of documents that might be technically exempt from release (especially with respect to the “deliberative” b(5) exemption), to proactively post records of interest to the public, and to remove “unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles.”

Fifty-six agencies have not updated their Freedom of Information Act regulations since the passage of the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which mandated that agencies reform their fee structures, institute request tracking numbers, publish specific data on their FOIA output, and cooperate with the new FOIA mediators at the Office of Government Information Services … //

… According to the Archive’s FOIA Coordinator, Nate Jones, “These forgotten regulations and FOIA backslides demonstrate that President Obama needs to install a Transparency Bulldog in the White House whose sole responsibility is to track, cajole, and force federal agencies into complying with the law of the Freedom of Information Act and ensure that the President’s commitments to openness are not ignored by the agencies he leads.”

Are Agency FOIA Regulations up to Date with FOIA Improvements? … //

…  Modeled after the California Sunshine Survey and subsequent state “FOI Audits,” the Archive’s series of Knight Open Government Surveys started in 2002 and use open government laws to test whether or not agencies are obeying those same laws. Recommendations from previous Knight Open Government Surveys led directly to laws and executive orders which have: set explicit customer service guidelines, mandated FOIA backlog reduction, assigned individualized FOIA tracking numbers, forced agencies to report the average number of days needed to process requests, and revealed the (often embarrassing) ages of the oldest pending FOIA requests. The surveys include:

  • The Ashcroft Memo: “Drastic” Change or “More Thunder Than Lightning”?
  • Justice Delayed is Justice Denied
  • A FOIA Request Celebrates Its 17th Birthday: A Report on Federal Agency FOIA Backlog
  • Pseudo-Secrets: A Freedom of Information Audit of the U.S. Government’s Policies on Sensitive Unclassified Information
  • File Not Found: 10 Years After E-FOIA, Most Federal Agencies are Delinquent
  • 40 Years of FOIA, 20 Years of Delay
  • Mixed Signals, Mixed Results: How President Bush’s Executive Order on FOIA Failed to Deliver
  • 2010 Knight Open Government Survey: Sunshine and Shadows
  • 2011 Knight Open Government Survey: Glass Half Full
  • 2011Knight Open Government Survey: Eight Federal Agencies Have FOIA Requests a Decade Old.

UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect that as of October 1, 2012, six agencies, rather than three, have joined FOIAonline.
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