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.”