A Look at Transparency in the 21st Century
by Gavin Baker
Mar 21, 2012
This afternoon, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's technology subcommittee will host a hearing on using technology to improve transparency under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The hearing will also be an opportunity to examine the Obama administration's performance on implementing FOIA. Sean Moulton, Director of Federal Information Policy at OMB Watch, is scheduled to testify.
Other hearing witnesses will include:
- Miriam Nisbet, Director of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at the National Archives and Records Administration
- Andrew Battin, Director of the Office of Information Collection at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Melanie Ann Pustay, Director of the Office of Information Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice
In a democracy, citizens should have easy access to the information that their government gathers in order to engage with their public officials as equal partners. We believe that technology can speed up citizen requests for public information and expand proactive disclosure. In his testimony, Moulton will discuss our recommendations for using technology to improve transparency, as well as the findings of our recent analysis of agencies' FOIA performance in fiscal year 2011.
Our analysis found continued progress by the Obama administration in strengthening transparency under FOIA, as well as some setbacks. For example, agencies received and processed more FOIA requests than in either of the past two years. Nevertheless, the surge in FOIA requests outpaced the administration's increase in processing, which resulted in a growth of the combined FOIA backlog.
Looking forward, several key reforms could improve agencies' compliance and responsiveness under FOIA. The FOIA portal, currently under development at EPA, would scale up innovative technologies, already in use at some agencies, in order to significantly improve transparency and efficiency. In addition, statutory and administrative reforms, such as expanding the types of information that agencies are required to proactively disclose on their websites, could further strengthen the use of technology to improve transparency.
Another topic likely to garner discussion at the hearing is the FOIA management report card released by the Oversight Committee last week. The report evaluates how well federal agencies are tracking basic information with regard to the processing of FOIA requests. Overall, the committee report card criticizes agencies for not keeping adequate records to enable oversight of their FOIA implementation.back to Blog