Request for public feedback on improving U.S. government compliance with the Freedom of Information

In August, our director was appointed by the acting Archivist of the USA (AOTUS) to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act Advisory Committee as one of the non-governmental members who advocates for better access on behalf of the public, press, and good government watchdogs. For those unfamiliar, this federal advisory committee was established in 2014 to “foster dialog between the Administration and the requester community, solicit public comments, and develop consensus recommendations for improving FOIA administration and proactive disclosures.” The past 4 terms have generated 51 recommendations, with varying impact and implementation: https://www.archives.gov/ogis/foia-advisory-committee/dashboard

The full committee will meet again this Friday, December 1, when we will hear from an expert requestor panel about complex FOIA requests and litigation and then discuss subcommittee reports.

This term, we will be increasing the focus on improved delivery of the first two elements of this committee charter: fostering dialog between the US government and the requester community, and soliciting public comments. 

In light of that, we want to make sure journalists and FOIA advocates around the United States know that the White House will host a public “engagement session on data transparency and ways to improve accessibility and utility of government data” on November 29th as part of the ongoing consultation for the next U.S. National Action Plan for Open Government. The administration it is “seeking input about how data can be more transparent, useful, and accessible” and has published a blog post at the White House requesting feedback on:

  • Strengthening access to government information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
  • Creating better feedback loops between data practitioners and federal data stewards

Folks and organizations/institutions) interested in these topics could help nudge federal policy in the right direction by sharing “new ideas for how federal agencies can improve access to public data” and offering insights about how to improve the implementation of of the FOIA experiences during this virtual call.

As there is only an hour scheduled, however, sending written comments to opengov@ostp.eop.gov may be useful. For those who feel comfortable doing so, please consider publishing your comment as a blog post or op-ed or article and emailing us a link (alex @governing.digital) or forwarding the comment you submit.

We expect all input for the next national action plan on open government will eventually be disclosed as public records, but it would be useful if FOI advocates and experts from around the country publicly highlighted t1) steps agencies could take right now, without additional legislation or an executive order2) holes in the statute and compliance that reforms and oversight could rectify.

We have many ideas for improving the statute, regulations, and compliance, but we’d love to hear from the folks who have years or decades of experience making FOI requests, accessing data, and working with agencies to do both. The federal FOIA ombuds office at the National Archives (Office of Government Information Services) has also asked how NARA and the committee can improve civic engagement and dialog around FOIA in an ongoing fashion. What should NARA, the White House Office of Management and Budget, and the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy be doing, or doing differently? What’s missing from these recommendations? Which aren’t being implemented well, or at all?

We would be honored to share feedback from the requestor the committee in an ongoing fashion: please be as tough and unsparing as the situation warrants. Many thanks to everyone working to improve government transparency and holding our governments of, by, and for the people to account.

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