Digging deeper into HR 1211

The language in HR 1211, Section C calls for OMB to establish and fund a three year pilot of FOIAonline. HR 1211, which has already been voted out of committee, essentially gives the EPA a blank check to continue to develop their FOIAonline Portal and FOIA Case Processing solution under the guise of a new government program that competes directly with the commercial sector.  Furthermore, the EPA’s claim of $200M in cost avoidance will not withstand a fair and critical analysis.

In this time of budget cuts and sequestration – in addition to the call by many Federal agency CIOs for “laser focus” on agency mission – it is untenable that the EPA or any other Federal agency is spending resources and tax dollars to build a new FOIA case processing solution and portal when the commercial sector competes on price and innovation to deliver FOIA technology to the public sector.

With Congress now investigating the latest EPA FOIA scandal it would seem to us that EPA should refocus its efforts to comply with FOIA instead of trying to build a new FOIA case processing system.

The stated intent of the Freedom of Information Act is for each agency to determine what defines a “reasonable” FOIA request and for each agency to determine its own fee schedule.  This is also true regarding FOIA technology – each agency’s requirements are unique.  A single, monolithic FOIA system for the US government, as proposed by EPA, would be a giant step backwards for the government’s commitment to transparency and openness.

We urge Congress to reconsider the language in Section C to require a full and open competitive process to establish a government-wide, centralized Web portal that is built to support open technology standards and interoperability to all existing commercial and custom FOIA case processing solutions and we ask that the FOIAonline project be defunded.