incentivizes agency disclosure

The Justice Department has launched a new website that shines light on your agency\'s performance under the Freedom of Information Act.

John Buckner
Federal News Radio is the newest website from the Department of Justice allowing the public to view an online report card of how agencies are handling Freedom of Information Act requests.

“What the site does is take all the incredibly detailed statistics that the agencies provide the Department of Justice in their annual FOIA reports and then displays that information graphically,” said Melanie Pustay, director of the Office of Information Policy at DOJ, in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER.

President Barack Obama issued a memo two years ago requiring agencies to be more efficient with their FOIA responses. According to a National Security Archive report, 41 of the 90 agencies have yet to make any major changes.

The NSA’s report showed 52 agencies have no records to respond to President Obama’s request or never responded to the NSA’s survey.

“The conclusions that were reached in that report are based on incomplete data,” Pustay said. “That’s because the chief FOIA officer reports that every agency files in accordance with Attorney General Holder’s FOIA guidelines that describe the concrete steps agencies have taken to increase transparency.”

Pustay said the site not only provides an incentive for agencies to continue working towards providing more information but also serves as an educational tool for the public to learn more about FOIA.

“We want to have the site be a one-stop-shop where the public can go to find out how FOIA works, where to make a FOIA request, what to expect through the FOIA process,” Pustay said. “We have explanatory videos embedded in the site so that somebody can just hear an explanation of FOIA terms.”

Anyone who visits the site can also find a compilation of the most popular FOIA requests as well as reports the Office of Information Policy thinks might be interesting to users.

“The idea is to sort of change the presumption of how FOIA works so that it is not just reactive, it is also proactive disclosure as well,” she said.

Chief FOIA officers “are reporting back some really great examples of things they are doing not only to post more information but also to make the information more understandable, more usable and more interactive,” Pustay said.

John Buckner is an intern with Federal News Radio.

(Copyright 2011 by All Rights Reserved.)


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