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Freedom of Info News

In Civil Liberties, Culture jamming, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2006, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Netroots, Progressive Politics, Technology, US Politics on October 18, 2006 at 1:03 am

The federal Freedom of Information Act, and its state-level Freedom of Information Laws, are indescribably critical to government transparency. That is, critical when implemented meaningfully. A note from GovExec:

Agencies subject to the Freedom of Information Act are for the most part complying with an executive order outlining a two-year process for improving the implementation of the 40-year-old law, according to a new Justice Department report…

The report stated that the Justice Department has focused on reducing backlogs by establishing a goal of closing the 10 oldest pending FOIA requests for records from its leadership offices on a regular basis. Other agencies, such as the Small Business Administration, do not have such backlogs, the report said.

And another take from Secrecy News:

…From a public access point of view, however, the results seem less significant, particularly since the executive order did not alter disclosure policy or standards at all. Instead, it sought to improve processing and productivity under the existing disclosure standards, while reducing backlogs.

As a result, some of the reforms of which the new report boasts may loom large within the government, but still appear inconsequential from the outside.

For example, using post cards to acknowledge receipt of FOIA requests instead of more formal letters is a “novel idea,” the Attorney General says in his new report. It “holds great potential for improving the process.” It is “an outstanding idea,” the report strangely insists. “The simple use of postcards rather than standard written letters … could save countless hours.”

Unfortunately, this won’t do. Efficiency, while welcome, is not the same as productivity. And the executive order does little to improve productivity… Even by the yardstick of efficiency, the current FOIA regime shows a certain lack of imagination.

Perhaps the single most important step that agencies could take would be to routinely post FOIA responses on agency web sites... It could be even better than post cards.

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