Agencies Should Use Open Gov Page to Promote Info Releases

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) open government page (www.dhs.gov/open) has a good feature: a clear link to a page where the agency posts its policy on proactive disclosures. The policy stems from an August 26, 2009 memo from the DHS Chief Privacy Officer that directs agency personnel to make certain types of records available. 

It’s a good policy. First, it includes information that the public should have easy access to about its government. Several of the types of records included in the DHS policy are included on a list developed by several organizations that promote open and accountable government of types of information each federal component should – at a minimum- release. These items– which include calendars of senior agency officials, executed contracts and grants, Congressional correspondence, and FOIA logs — are important because they help people understand who is trying to influence decision makers and how taxpayer monies are being spent.

Second, it’s a good policy good because it directs agency personnel to make the information accessible on the agency website and include a link to it in the agency’s FOIA Electronic Reading Room – – an area where, by law, agencies are supposed to post "frequently requested" records. As we’ve discussed, proactive disclosures – when an agency releases information of interest to the public before anyone has to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request – are a win-win for agencies that are struggling to keep up with the volume of FOIA requests (and make progress on backlogs) and for people who do not have time to go through the often-lengthy and sometimes complicated FOIA process. But, if the public can’t find the information, it is not truly available.

DHS appears to be alone in posting such a policy on its open government page (perhaps even in having such a policy). A quick review of the open government pages for the almost 30 components of the government listed on the White House’s Open Government Dashboard revealed no similar efforts. Several of the pages do easily link visitors to a section on FOIA, but most of these sections merely include links to annual FOIA reports. While some include information on how to file a FOIA request, shockingly few link visitors to the FOIA Reading Room. We applaud DHS and encourage other agencies to follow their lead.

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