U.S. Plans to Create FOI Advisory Group

8 November 2013

The United States will create a “FOIA Modernization” advisory group, according to the Oct. 31 preview of its second Open Government Partnership action plan.

The government also plans to develop a consolidated online portal for making FOIA requests. In addition, steps will be taken to develop a core federal FOIA regulation, while still allowing for some agency variation. (These moves were reported by FreedomInfo.org Oct. 31.)

Two other proposals concern procedures and training.

The plan remains under development and is expected to be completd in December.

Text of the FOI Section

Modernizing the Freedom of Information Act to Better Serve the Public

 On his first full day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum directing a presumption of openness be used by Federal agencies in responding to FOIA requests. The Obama Administration has already made important progress to improve the FOIA process by simplifying the process of filing requests at many agencies, by proactively disclosing information in the public interest in advance of requests, by speeding up processing times, by greatly reducing FOIA backlogs, and by publishing more data on FOIA compliance.

There is still much more that the Administration can do to improve the FOIA process. The United States is committed to further modernizing FOIA processes through the following initiatives:

1. Improve the Customer Experience through a Consolidated Online FOIA Service

More than 100 Federal agencies are subject to FOIA. For the average requester, this can mean significant energy spent searching for the right agency and navigating its website to figure out the unique process for submitting a request to that agency.

The Administration will launch a consolidated request portal that allows the public to submit a request to any Federal agency from a single site and includes additional tools to improve the customer experience. The United States will establish a task force to review current practices, seek public input, and determine the best way to implement this consolidated FOIA service.

2. Develop Common FOIA Regulations and Practices for Federal Agencies

Certain steps in the FOIA process are generally shared across Federal agencies. Standardizing these common aspects through a core FOIA regulation and common set of practices will make it easier for requesters to understand and navigate the FOIA process and easier for the government to keep regulations up to date. The Administration will initiate an interagency process to determine the feasibility and the potential content of a core FOIA regulation that is both applicable to all agencies and retains flexibility for agency-specific requirements.

3. Improve Internal Agency FOIA Processes

Over the past few years, several agencies have analyzed existing FOIA practices and used this information to make dramatic improvements in their backlogs and processing times, as well as to increase the proactive release of information in the public interest. The U.S. Government will scale these targeted efforts to improve the efficiency of agencies with the biggest backlogs, and to share broadly the lessons learned and strategies to further improve internal agency FOIA processes.

4. Establish a FOIA Modernization Advisory Committee

Improvements to FOIA administration must take into account the views and interests of both requesters and the Government. The United States will therefore establish a formal FOIA Advisory Committee, comprised of government and non-governmental members of the FOIA community, to foster dialog between the

Administration and requester community, solicit public comments, and develop consensus recommendations for improving FOIA administration and proactive disclosures.

5. Improve FOIA Training Across Government to Increase Efficiency

In order to efficiently and effectively respond to FOIA requests, every Federal employee — not just those in an agency’s FOIA office — should fully understand the FOIA process. The Administration will make standard e-learning training resources available for FOIA professionals and other Federal employees and encourage their use.

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