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article imageWhite House to make records more public; DHS offers new FOIA app

By Caroline Leopold     Jul 13, 2015 in Politics
Seven federal agencies launched a new effort to put online the records they distribute to requesters under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The law that is supposed to keep citizens in the know about what their government is doing is about to get more transparent.
Starting this week, seven government agencies will begin to put online the records they send to requesters under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), according to the Washington Post.
The new policy has a pithy description, “release to one is release to all.”
What this means is that if a journalist, nonprofit or corporation asks for records, the public also will be see the same information. The government will still redact what they deem as sensitive information.
Participating agencies include Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Millennium Challenge Corporation and certain parts of the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the Justice Department and the National Archives and Records Administration.
The EPA has already been putting FOIA responses online since 2013.
The Obama administration’s new Open Government initiative began quietly on the agencies’ websites days after FOIA’s 49th anniversary. It’s a response to years of pressure from open-government groups and lawmakers to boost public access to records of government decisions, deliberations and policies.
Federal agencies received 714,231 requests for records under FOIA in fiscal year 2014, up from 514,541 in fiscal 2009. Policies on publishing the information have varied, with some agencies not posting anything online and others waiting until at least three people or organizations request the same records to make them public.
An app for FOIA
The Department of Homeland Security unveiled their brand new "eFOIA" mobile application, available on Google Play and iTunes stores. The app, released on June 30, hasn't exactly a bestseller with less than 500 downloads and four reviews. Android users complained that of a pixelated interface and crashes.
In a review of the app, Techdirt found that eFOIA has a long way to go to be useful, "It's not even worth using as a last resort."
According to the DHS website, the agency receives the largest number of FOIA requests in government and has a backlog of more than 83,000 requests since the beginning of July.
FOIA requests to any agency may be made by submitting a specific request via an online form or mail to the federal agency. There is no fee to make a request, but there may be labor and duplication fees charged. The requester may ask for a fee waiver.
As for how long it takes to receive the information, it depends. Simple requests are supposed to be fast tracked and move through the processing line more quickly — around 20 business days. However, an analysis of FOIA responses found that some agencies took six months or more for simple requests.
Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act on July 4, 1966, which allows any U.S. citizen to petition the government for official information. Johnson was reluctant to sign the bill and took pains to stress the President would still be able to maintain secrecy, "when national interest so requires," according to the New Yorker.
More about Foia, Homeland Security, Public records, DHS app, Open government
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