FOIA: Streamlining the Document Request Process

Government travel costs are hitting the news again as Bloomberg News reports this week that “only about half [of the 57 major federal agencies] provided the records and costs” required under the Freedom of Information Act when Bloomberg News filed requests for the out-of-town travel records for fiscal year 2011 for Cabinet secretaries and top officials at these agencies.

President Obama stepped into office promising a more transparent federal government and “over the past four years, federal agencies have gone to great efforts to make government more transparent and more accessible than ever” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.

The recent findings by Bloomberg News show that these great efforts have not transformed into results. But it’s not just the United States that is facing this serious issue; a similar problem is occurring in Canada. An audit conducted earlier this year for Newspapers Canada, involved hundreds of access requests to federal, provincial and municipal governments across Canada. The responses were then graded on speed of response and completeness, with the federal Canadian government scoring the letter grades “D” and “C” respectively.

In the United States, some of the systematic issues with the FOIA process will be tackled through newly issued (as of August 24, 2012) guidelines from the Office of Management and Budget (PDF) to all federal agencies on how to streamline government information. This memo calls for all government information to be stored in an electronic format by December of 2019.

It seems that electronic document storage can enhance accessibility; however, this important step is only one piece of the puzzle. As more and more information is housed electronically, there is greater demand in both the U.S. and Canada to streamline the document request process through freedom of information laws. AINS is already implementing systems within the federal government and in the private sector to do just that with products such as our FOIAXpress electronic FOIA request management solution in the U.S. and its Canadian counterpart, ATIPXpress, for access to information requests.