Press releases tell us when federal agencies do something right, but the Freedom of Information Act lets us know when they do not. — Sen. Patrick Leahy, 1996
Democracies only work for real if citizens have the right to know. In this Republic, the right to know what our federal agencies are doing comes from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), signed into law by President Johnson on July 4, 1966.
Even with the FOIA, keeping government open isn’t easy. President Obama promised more transparency. How’s he done?
Last year, according to the AP, people requested information 544,360 times under the FOIA from the 35 largest agencies, up nearly 41,000 more than the previous year. But the government took action on nearly 12,400 fewer requests than in the prior year. The Administration refused to release any sought-after materials in more than a third of the information requests, including cases when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies, or the request was determined to be improper under the law.
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To mark Sunshine Week — an initiative by newspaper editors to promote open government — the Justice Department posted a nifty citizens’ guide to using the FOIA.
Here are some highlights:
FOIA.gov is a site dedicated to the Freedom of Information Act, a law at the very heart of open government. . . .
FOIA.gov makes it easier than ever to find information about the FOIA. With clear explanations and short videos, we’ve explored all the major aspects of the FOIA, including how you can make a request and what happens when you do.
We’ve also gathered information on where to send a FOIA request into one location. Just click on the name of a department and you’ll see where to send your request and the names of the officials responsible for making sure your request is completed.
If you want a quick glance at an agency’s data – we’ve got that too. Select any agency and you’ll see top-line data, like the number of requests for the most recent year and the number of total and partial grants made.
For more detailed information from an agency, you can generate your own report.
. . . . Using the FOIA Spotlight we will spotlight some of the most interesting documents to be released under the law. We’ve invited every agency to submit their suggestions for this section of the site. [Editor’s note: This is one of our favorite government destinations.]
The DOJ’ full post on its Justice Blog can be viewed here.