Tag Archives: Freedom of Information Act

U.S. Will Respond To FOIA Requests Online With Trial Of ‘Release To One, Release To All’ Policy

Seven federal agencies have announced that they are participating in the trial of a new “Release-to-One is Release-to-All” policy for Freedom of Information Act requests, which would let the public submit, and give the public access to FOIA request responses online.

A statement was released on several agency websites regarding the series of pilot programs that will be tested over the next six months, and it claimed that the agencies participating include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the National Archives and Records Administration.

Melanie Pustay, the director of the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice, told the Huffington Post that the program is an effort to increase both transparency and efficiency by “encouraging agencies to make records available proactively.”

Pustay said that the new trial is different than the existing FOIA policy, because rather than using a “rule of three,” and only publishing records that are frequently requested, the agencies would post records when just one request is made.

“What the pilot is doing is taking that to the point of when, with one request, agencies would post the records,” Pustay said. “We think this is a strong step forward. At the same time, we realize there are challenges in cost and time to implement it.”

The Reports Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) noted that the trial of the new program has received “little public fanfare,” and that the agencies have not clarified as to whether there will be a delay between “sending responsive documents to the requester and posting them for the general public,” or whether individuals who request documents will be “sent a link to a public website that already hosts the documents.”

The program’s announcement claims that while the pilots will seek to answer questions about “costs associated with such a policy, effect on staff time required to process requests, effect on interactions with government stakeholders, and the justification for exceptions to such a policy, such as for personal privacy,” participating agencies “will not post online responses to requests in which individuals seek access to information about themselves” for privacy concerns.

RCFP noted that although President Obama promised to have the “most transparent administration in history,” a series of “FOIA denials, delays, and excessive redactions” have been a major obstacle for both reporters and the public, and there were “over 159,000 FOIA requests backlogged” in 2014, compared with “around 75,000” in 2009.

The Associated Press reported that the Obama Administration set a new record once again for denying access to, and censoring government files from the public under the Freedom of Information Act in 2014, acknowledging in “nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law.”

White House Exempts Office of Administration from FOIA Requests

On Tuesday, the White House published a notice in the Federal Register, deleting the regulation that required the Office of Administration to be subject to public information requests, which would have required a response under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The Office of Administration is made up of seven offices that are in charge of overseeing the general administration of the entire Executive Office.

The notice published in the Federal Register said that the White House is “removing regulations from the Code of Federal Regulations related to the status of records created and maintained by the Executive Office of the President.”

This action is being taken in order to align Office of Administration policy with well-settled legal interpretations of the Office of Administration’s status under Federal law and Executive Orders, including the Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy Act of 1974, and Executive Order 13526,” stated the notice.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest claimed that even with the change in rules, the Obama administration is the “most transparent administration in history.” He referred to the repeal as an “administrative change,” and said that it has “no impact on our compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

This change in the regulations is merely an effort to comply with a court ruling that was issued almost six years ago,” said Earnest, referencing an appeals court ruling from 2009 that made the Office of Administration exempt from FOIA. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed against the Bush administration by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

Anne Weismann, a member of CREW, told USA Today that the repeal is “completely out of step with the president’s supposed commitment to transparency.

You have a president who comes in and says, ‘I’m committed to transparency and agencies should make discretionary disclosures whenever possible,’ but he’s not applying that to his own White House,” Weismann said.

According to The Hill, the Obama administration has “censored or denied access to records more frequently than ever in 2013” and has “cited more legal reasons than ever for exempting them.”

USA Today noted that the timing of the repeal has “raised eyebrows among transparency advocates,” due to the fact that it was made on National Freedom of Information Day, in the midst of a debate over the preservation of Obama administration records, and during Sunshine Week, which is devoted to news organizations and watchdog groups highlighting issues of government transparency.