Open, Accountable Government
As Congress Considers Legislative Improvements, New Report Shows Federal Agencies Still Struggle to Process Public Information Requests in a Timely, Consistent Way
-For Immediate Release-
March 10, 2015
Contact: Brian Gumm, email@example.com, 202-683-4812
As Congress Considers Legislative Improvements,
New Report Shows Federal Agencies Still Struggle
to Process Public Information Requests in a Timely, Consistent Way
Websites Improve, but Weaker Performance in Processing Holds Back Overall Grades
WASHINGTON, March 10, 2015—The Center for Effective Government released its second annual access to information scorecard today, grading the 15 key agencies that receive the most public information requests. The findings: eight out of the 15 agencies improved their overall grades from last year, but none earned an overall A grade. While the number of agencies with overall failing grades fell from five to two, another eight received “unsatisfactory” D grades.
"The Freedom of Information Act represents the foundational transparency law for the federal government," said Katherine McFate, President and CEO of the Center for Effective Government. "It is supposed to guarantee ordinary Americans access to government information; it allows the media, advocacy organizations, and citizens to see how government does its work, how decisions are made, and what our public officials do in our name. But providing information to the public requires staff, resources, and commitment. Our report shows agencies are still struggling with the task.”
Making the Grade: Access to Information Scorecard 2015 measures three areas of performance for the 15 federal agencies that received 90 percent of FOIA requests: agency rules for processing information; FOIA websites that are easy to use, updated regularly, and provide information people want; and speed and responsiveness in handling information requests.
Eight out of 15 agencies improved their overall score this year, and in each of the three performance areas, more agencies received the highest marks (A) this year than last year. But only two agencies improved their FOIA policy guidelines, and processing scores actually declined in eight agencies. Consistency is elusive.
The Social Security Administration remains a top performer, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture moved up to first place. Four agencies did improve their processing scores somewhat, but website improvements accounted for the largest score increases.
"Agencies are trying to establish a public information infrastructure for the 21st century, but permanent progress is difficult when agency budgets are uncertain and declining," said Sean Moulton, Director of Open Government Policy and one of the authors of the report. "Agencies that have a large number of complex requests and a high number of requests per staff member are particularly challenged."
Members of Congress from both parties in both the House and Senate have introduced bills to improve FOIA by explicitly strengthening the presumption of openness and requiring agencies to move toward more proactive, online disclosure of public information. The White House could also ratchet up performance by issuing uniform processing rules.
The report and grade tables are available online at http://www.foreffectivegov.org/access-to-information-scorecard-2015. The overall grade table is below.
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