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Attorney General’s Report on FOIA

How is the Freedom of Information Act doing? It is a key component of government information and essential for that body of information that does not get published and distributed even on agency web sites. Last week, the Department of Justice released the Attorney General’s Report to the President on FOIA Administration (October 16, 2006. PDF, 17pp. See also the press release accompanying the report).

Attorney General
Alberto R. Gonzales

Steven Aftergood points out that the report boasts of “reforms” that “may loom large within the government, but still appear inconsequential from the outside.” The report, for example, makes much of using post cards to acknowledge receipt of FOIA requests instead of more formal letters and calls this a “novel idea…an outstanding idea.” Such changes, Aftergood notes, are more about efficiency than productivity and “the executive order does little to improve productivity.”

The National Security Archive at George Washington University responded to the Attorney General’s report with a letter to the Attorney General and a call for congressional oversight hearings to make optimistic FOIA processing goals a reality. It notes that the Attorney General’s report is “merely an overview of 91 individual FOIA improvement plans drafted by federal agencies” and that “It fails to acknowledge that many of the admirable goals set by the agencies can only be met with an increased commitment of resources — which the Executive Order makes clear is not being considered by the Administration.”

In separate letters to the two principal congressional committees with oversight responsibility for FOIA the National Security Archive reiterates agencies’ lack of basic technology such as copiers and Internet access.

For more background on FOIA see Happy 40th anniversary FOIA!! or see the results of a simple search of FGI for our coverage of FOIA.

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