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Millions of people looking at records through FOIA, backlogs continue to rise

More and more people are using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to learn about what their government is doing, according to this July 26, 2006 report from the Government Accountability Office:

Freedom of Information Act: Preliminary Analysis of Processing Trends Shows Importance of Improvement Plans, GAO-06-1022T.

According to the report summary (emphasis mine):

According to data reported by agencies in their annual reports, the public continues to request and receive increasing amounts of information from the federal government through FOIA; however, excepting one case–the Social Security Administration (SSA)–the rate of increase has flattened in recent years. (SSA reported an additional 16 million requests in 2005, dwarfing those for all other agencies combined, which together total about 2.6 million; SSA attributed this rise to an improvement in its method of counting requests. However, Justice officials have suggested that SSA consider treating the bulk of these requests as non-FOIA requests and thus not include them in future reports.) When SSA’s numbers are excluded, data reported by the other 24 major agencies show that the number of requests received increased by 27 percent from fiscal year 2002 to 2005, but by only about 2.5 percent from fiscal year 2004. As more requests come in, agencies also report that they have been processing more of them–25 percent more from 2002 to 2005 (but only about 2.0 percent more than from 2004). Despite processing more requests, agencies have not kept up with the increase in requests being made: the number of pending requests carried over from year to year has been steadily increasing, rising to about 200,000 in fiscal year 2005–43 percent more than in 2002. The rate of increase in requests pending is also growing: the increase from fiscal year 2004 to 2005 is 24 percent, compared to 11 percent from 2003 to 2004.

The report also detailed flaws in agencies’ measurement and resolution of backlogged FOIA requests. If you would like to add to the gov’t backlog while learning how your tax dollars are being used, see the National Security Archive’s guide to FOIA. It’s also possible your interest area has already been made public in a federal FOIA reading room.

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