Public access to information is vital during times of crisis, but government transparency is often sacrificed when it is needed most. The coronavirus pandemic is no different, and we are seeing Freedom of Information Act processing either directly undermined or buried in delays. Open The Government has made the following recommendations to protect FOIA, including:
1) Increase funding for FOIA offices. In the midst of the COVID-19, it is more important than ever that the public receives timely response to FOIA requests, rather than waiting months or years. Congress should increase funding for FOIA offices for the duration of the crisis, so long as they continue to accept electronic requests.
2) Give FOIA officers access to electronic records. Many federal officials are working remotely, making it even more difficult to access relevant records. Granting FOIA officers access to an agency’s electronic records would go a long way toward reducing processing delays and speeding the response to requesters.
3) Increase transparency around new government contracts. Particularly during this difficult time, it is vital that the public is able to ensure contractors aren’t guilty of waste or fraud at the expense of public health and safety. Congress should require that all new contracts made using CARES Act or other coronavirus-related funds contain a provision subjecting the contractor to the Freedom of Information Act.
Open The Government has created this one-pager with more information on strengthening the public’s access to information during the pandemic and beyond.