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Accounting office evaluates agency compliance with EFOIA

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Mar 21, 2001    

Accounting office evaluates agency compliance with EFOIA

  • Agencies have set up required electronic reading rooms, but have yet to fill them with the information they must provide electronically, the General Accounting Office reported.

The General Accounting Office on March 16 released its evaluation of government agency implementation of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act of 1996, finding that agencies have established the electronic reading rooms required by the law, but have not made all the required documents available to the public electronically.

The GAO made two recommendations: that agencies make all required material electronically available; and, with guidance from the Justice Department’s Office of Information and Privacy, agencies improve their annual Freedom of Information Act reports to Congress.

The congressional agency which conducts studies and audits at the request of Congress made several other findings:

* Agencies consider the 20-day period for determining whether to comply with requests impractical but view discussions with requesters as beneficial.

* Of the 1.9 million requests processed in Fiscal Year 1999, the median time for actually processing 1.7 million (89 percent) of the requests was 21 days or less. (These totals were based on the agency submissions of their reports to Congress, which were not consistent across agencies. For instance, the Veterans Administration counted every patient’s request for his own records as a FOI Act request and had a near-perfect processing record.)

* Agencies have implemented the multi-track and expedited processing provisions of EFOIA intended to decrease agency delays in responding to certain kinds of requests. Multi-track processing allows agencies to assign shorter requests to queues separate from those of longer requests, allowing overall for faster processing of more shorter requests.

Also, GAO reported, although agencies have expedited review procedures in place, they seldom grant it. The EFOIA provides for expedited review when there is a compelling urgency for records, including instances when persons who are primarily engaged in disseminating information have an urgency to inform the public concerning actual or alleged federal government activity.

GAO submitted the report to Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.).

(GAO-01-378) RD

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