Tough Questions on FOIA, and a Call for Renewed Attention to Issues: February 19, 2013 Newsletter

In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Tough Questions on FOIA, and a Call for Renewed Attention to Issues

News from Coalition Partners & Others

Five Minutes for FOIAonline

Sunshine in Government wants to know: do you have five minutes to dedicate to talk to agencies about FOIAonline? As we’ve written before, FOIAonline is a web-based FOIA requesting site aimed at streamlining and improving the FOIA process for agencies, requesters, and the general public. (For those interested, is currently running a project that compares the use of FOIAonline with other agency processes.) So far, only six agencies are participating. In an effort to boost awareness and participation in the service, Sunshine in Government is conducting a survey of the agencies to find out their familiarity with FOIA online and whether the agency is committed to joining. If you’d like to lend a hand by contacting an agency, email

50 States: Now a Little More Open

The Sunlight Foundation’s Open States site now includes searchable legislative data for all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Open States users can identify their state lawmakers, review their votes, search for legislation, and track activity. The site ties in local news articles, lawmaker voting records, and campaign finance records from Sunlight’s Influence Explorer.

POGO Issues Report on the SEC/Wall Street Revolving Door

The Project on Government Oversight used thousands of records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with current and former SEC officials to shed light on the increasingly blurred lines between the Security and Exchange Commission and Wall Street. The POGO report analyzes the impact of the revolving door on the SEC and how to address its effects.

I. Tough Questions on FOIA, and a Call for Renewed Attention to Issues

On February 4th, 2013 the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice, posing some important questions regarding OIP’s role in government-wide FOIA policy implementation, compliance, and enforcement. OIP’s response is required by February 22nd.

More than 40 organization joined in thanking the Committee for sending the letter. The sign-on letter also says that we look forward to future oversight hearings on the issues, and expressed our hope that the Committee shares the responses with the public – after all, many of the concerns expressed by the House Committee cite work by the openness community, specifically the National Security Archive’s audit of outdated FOIA regulations, and the Transactional Records Clearinghouse’s examination of FOIA lawsuits.

As Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Cummings write in their letter, FOIA is an important option the public has for accessing information about the government’s activities. This tool is much less meaningful, however, if the public cannot use it to get timely access to the information to the information to which they are entitled. The Obama administration expressed similar sentiments in its 2009 FOIA memo, calling it “the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.”

The Obama administration set a clear standard of the presumption of openness and directed agencies to take affirmative steps to make government information more available to the public. Given the continued issues requesters have with the FOIA, however, it appears that these principles and policies are not receiving the requisite attention by high-ranking agency officials to ensure they are followed. In light of this apparent disconnect, many groups also joined in writing to the President to urge him to bring renewed attention to FOIA.

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