Agency Responses to President’s Call for FOIA Improvement Do Not Disclose Much, Report Shows

July 4, 2006
Contact: Patrice McDermott, 301-537-7790 (cell) or 202-234-8494
View the report and the accompanying table

Today, July 4th, is the fortieth anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act. The Act was created to “ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption, and to hold the governors accountable to the governed.”

In recognition of this important milestone in the history of disclosure of government information, members and staff of, the Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI), Coalition of Journalists for Open Government (CJOG), National Security Archive, and other friends of openness in government undertook a collaborative look at a sample of the plans submitted by federal agencies in response to E.O. 13392, “Improving Agency Disclosure of Information,” issued on December 14, 2005. Director, Patrice McDermott, said of the reports, “It is surprising how many of the improvement areas were either not addressed or rated as poorly addressed, especially for the non-Cabinet agencies.” She expressed concern that an improvement area “that is, avowedly, of great and deep concern to the federal government” – # 21 – In-house training on “safeguarding label”/FOIA exemption distinctions (Safeguarding/document control labels – e.g., FOUO, SBU) – was responded to by only 4 of the 17 agencies reviewed and one of those received a “Poor” rating.

While it is apparent from the plans that some agencies face resource constraints, it is also clear that many have a distance to go to meet even the 1996 E-FOIA requirements, much less the Executive Order. It remains to be seen if any meaningful follow-up on agencies’ plans will occur.