U.S. to Make FOI Reform Major Part of OGP Plan

23 October 2013

By Toby McIntosh

The U.S. government intends to create a national portal for making freedom of information requests and move toward a single, national FOIA regulation, according to persons briefed this week and government officials.

These and other FOIA-related changes would be made part of the second U.S. national action plan as a member of the Open Government Partnership, FreedomInfo.org has learned.

The OGP is a 60-nation organization in which member nations make voluntary commitments to advance open government. The U.S. is preparing its second such action plan. It was to have been ready for presentation at the OGP summit Oct. 31-Nov. 1 in London, but the government shutdown delayed its preparation. Civil society groups were briefed on the draft plan this week. A summary is to be presented in London withthe full plan likely to come out in early December.

A U.S. government official speaking at an Open Gov Hub event for civil society groups Oct. 23 said the U.S. action plan will be “very robust” and that there will be “some really great steps on modernizing FOIA implementation.”

Single Portal Planned

Creating a single government-wide portal to handle requests for all agencies is one planned commitment, with the details still being worked out, sources told FreedomInfo.org.

An existing platform used by about seven agencies, foiaonline, is the likely base for such a portal, sources said. The foiaonline platform was created in October of 2012 and agency participation is voluntary. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)  Requesters may submit requests, track their progress, communicate with officials and file appeals via the site.

White House officials have indicated in the past that they favor a government-wide portal, for cost-savings reasons among other rationales, but there has been internal debate about requiring agencies to participate, where to host the portal and many other details.

Common FOIA Regulation Envisioned

Four other FOIA-related elements are being considered for inclusion in the U.S. plan.

The major one would be to create a common government-wide FOIA regulation to replace individual agency FOIA regulations.

Critics say that many agency rules are not up to date despite Obama administration admonitions, do not accurately reflect the law and apply varied standards. Inconsistencies are seen in such areas as fees, deadlines for appeals and the status of news media.

Another planned commitment will call for a study on improving FOIA processing. This could get into long-standing concerns such as backlogs and resource constraints.

The creation of a FOIA advisory committee is also a candidate commitment.

Improving training on FOIA and increasing accountability is a final topic for the action plan.

A coalition of U.S. civil society groups has recommended a variety of commitments, including some on FOIA, including a centralized portal.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: ,

Filed under: What's New