Agencies Respond to Recent Sunshine Week Audit

As you can imagine, not everyone was pleased to learn the results of a recent audit we conducted to see if agencies were complying with directions, sent out by the Administration during Sunshine Week, to proactively disclose a few pieces of useful generally information. Specifically, the Administration announced that agencies would make available –from their /open pages– links to agency directories, official congressional testimony and agency reports to Congress. Out of the 29 agencies that produced substantive open government plans last year, we found links to all the specified information on only six /open pages.

 

Some agencies took issue with not being given credit for making the information available somewhere on their website other than the /open page. We appreciate that they are following through on the Administration’s directive at least in spirit, and are even more appreciative that they are reading/ taking the time to respond to public comments about their performance. We are not being sticklers about the /open requirement just to be mean; the requirement from the Administration is intended to make the information easier for the public to find it. Information is not truly publicly available if the public cannot find information at all on an agency’s website, or if it is particularly hard to find.

 

In a similar vein, comments from agency personnel at a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Roundtable suggest that it is not uncommon for agencies to process FOIA requests for information that is already somewhere on the agency’s website. Perhaps some of these requests come from people who do not have internet access, but is safe to assume that some of them come from people who did look for the information online, and just could not find it. This is not a good use of agency resources – especially in the face of looming budget cuts.

 

We are encouraged by the Administration’s focus on increasing proactive disclosure. As we have commented in the past, making information that the public finds useful freely available and usable is a way to improve our FOIA system. We look forward to continuing to work with agencies on this issue.

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