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by the House Committee cite work by the openness community, specifically the National Security Archive’s audit of outdated FOIA regulations, and the Transactional Records Clearinghouse’s examination of FOIA lawsuits.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.