Survey: Many agencies still sluggish on FOIA changes despite White House push


Two years after President Obama pledged a new dawning of governmental sunshine, barely half of 90 federal agencies say they’ve made concrete changes in their handling of Freedom of Information Act requests, according to survey findings released Sunday.

While 49 agencies reported changes to their FOIA processes, the remainder either said they had no information or did not respond to the Knight Open Government Survey.

In a similar round-up last year, only 13 agencies reported changes, so this year’s numbers reflect a large uptick. Still, “at this rate, the president’s first term in office will be over by the time federal agencies do what he asked them to do on his first day in office,” said Eric Newton, a senior adviser at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which paid for the study.

The results were released by the National Security Archive, a private research organization based at George Washington University that helped carry out the survey. The findings could offer grist for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on FOIA scheduled for this Thursday.

For the survey, researchers filed FOIA requests asking agencies for copies of changes in their FOIA regulations, manuals, training materials or processing guidance resulting from a 2009 memo from Obama favoring disclosure or from follow-up instructions issued last year.

While several large agencies—including the Defense, Interior and Health and Human Services departments—reported changes, other heavyweights did not. Among them were the Commerce, Energy, State and Education departments.  And, oh yes, the Justice Department, the lead agency for carrying out FOIA policy.


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