NARA Participation in New FOIA Pilot

Today’s post comes from Joseph Scanlon, NARA’s FOIA Officer


July 4, 2015 was the 49th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the law that embodies the Federal Government’s commitment to public accountability through transparency.

On July 10, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy announced the launch of a new pilot program at seven agencies designed to test the feasibility of posting online FOIA responses so that they are available not just to the individual requester, but to the general public as well.

NARA is participating in the pilot for FOIA requests for the operational records that NARA creates as a federal agency, which are managed by NARA’s Office of General Counsel.  FOIA requests for NARA’s archival records from federal agencies and at Presidential Libraries, as well as the records controlled by NARA’s National Personnel Records Center are not included in this pilot project. For privacy reasons, NARA will not post online any FOIA responses to requests in which individuals seek access to information about themselves. NARA has posted some records on FOIAonline in response to certain FOIA requests, and now plans to begin posting all FOIA releases for operational records in August 2015.

The Justice Department already encourages agencies to publish FOIA responses online when agencies receive three or more requests for information. Expansion of that policy to include the publishing of FOIA responses after just one request raises potential implementation challenges and questions.

To determine the viability of implementing such a policy for all Federal agencies subject to FOIA, the pilots will seek to answer many important questions, including, but not limited to:

  • Costs associated with such a policy
  • Effects on staff time required to process requests
  • Effects on interactions with government stakeholders
  • Exceptions to such a policy, such as for personal privacy

For privacy reasons, participating agencies will not post online responses to first-party requests in which individuals seek access to information about themselves.

In addition to NARA, the pilots will take place at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, as well as within components of the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice.

The results of this six-month pilot program will be made available to the public, and the Administration intends to be transparent about the pilots and their implementation by participating agencies. The Administration invites the public’s feedback as this proposed policy shift is explored. Comments and suggestions for overcoming implementation challenges should be sent to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy at releasetoall@usdoj.gov.

To learn more about NARA’s implementation of FOIA, how to submit a FOIA request, and to browse NARA’s Electronic Reading Room, please visit: http://www.archives.gov/foia/   and FOIAonline, at https://foiaonline.regulations.gov.

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