Agencies could face govermentwide change in FOIA response policy

Federal agencies could soon face a new governmentwide guidance on how they respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, following a meeting in September.

The Justice Department Office of Information Policy announced Thursday that the Chief FOIA Officers Council will hold its second meeting on Sept. 15 to review agencies’ response to a new pilot program.

Under the “Release to One is a Release to All” pilot program initiative, seven volunteer agencies have posted their responses to FOIA requests on publicly available dot-gov websites.

“This concept would ensure that all citizens — not just those making a request — have access to information released under FOIA,” the White House Press Secretary’s Office said in a statement in June.

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The program, started by the OIP in July 2015, operates on the “presumption of openness” ethos of FOIA, but raises concerns within the investigative journalism community about how potential news scoops will be handled.

“The Chief FOIA Officers Council will examine issues critical to this policy’s implementation, including assessing the impact on investigative journalism efforts, as well as how best to address technological and resource challenges,” the White House said.

The CFO Council held its first meeting on July 22 following passage of FOIA Improvement Act this year. The council has until Jan. 1, 2017 to meet with the Office of Management and Budget in order to finalize guidance for agencies.

Passed in 1966, the Freedom on Information Act celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. In light of this milestone, OIP Director Melanie Pustay has called on agency FOIA officers to do more to break down the barriers of communication that exist between government and those filing requests for information.

OIP also announced the launch of a new website dedicated to updates from the CFO Council.

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