With little public fanfare, seven federal agencies have announced a controversial trial program of publishing documents responsive to most Freedom of Information Act requests online.
Under the program, known as a “Release-to-One is Release-to-All” policy, any member of the public will presumably have access to the result of almost any FOIA request.
Few other details were released in a brief announcement posted on several agency websites. It remains to be seen whether there will be a delay between sending responsive documents to the requester and posting them for the general public, or whether requesters will simply be sent a link to a public website that already hosts the documents.
Agencies participating in the six-month pilot include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and certain components of the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the National Archives and Records Administration.
In order to mitigate privacy concerns, the announcement states that “participating agencies will not post online responses to requests in which individuals seek access to information about themselves.”
The Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice is soliciting feedback from the public during the pilot program to determine the feasibility of implementing such a policy across the federal government. The announcement says that the results of the trial program will be made available to the public.
Despite promises of increased transparency at the beginning of President Obama’s administration, FOIA denials, delays, and excessive redactions have continued to plague reporters and the public. According to data released by the Department of Justice, there were over 159,000 FOIA requests backlogged in FY 2014, compared with around 75,000 in FY 2009.
FOIA reform legislation is currently under consideration in both the House and the Senate. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently held hearings on problems faced by requesters and opportunities for reform.
The Sunshine in Government Initiative, a media coalition of which the Reporters Committee is a member, recently unveiled an effort called “Fix FOIA by 50” to support legislative reform. The 50th anniversary of the passage of the Freedom of Information Act will occur on July 4, 2016.