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GAO to Update Its E-FOIA Implementation Study

In response to a recent congressional request, the General Accounting Office (GAO) is conducting a further study of the administration of the Freedom of Information Act across the executive branch, one aimed at updating the FOIA study that it completed less than a year ago.

During 2000-2001, at the request of multiple congressional offices, GAO examined federal agency implementation of the provisions of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-231, 5 U.S.C. 552 (as amended), commonly referred to as "E-FOIA," and it issued a final report of its examination approximately one year ago. See FOIA Post, "GAO E-FOIA Implementation Report Issued" (posted 3/23/01). This report, entitled "Progress in Implementing the 1996 Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments" (Mar. 16, 2001), focused primarily on the requirements that agencies make certain categories of information available to the public electronically and on the quality and timeliness of agencies' annual FOIA reports.

Based upon this GAO report, the Office of Information and Privacy was able to take several steps to draw all federal agencies' attention to the issues addressed in it, through such measures as: (1) a guidance memorandum to all agencies that immediately transmitted the report and discussed its findings in relation to further agency action required (see link above); (2) timely incorporation of the GAO report's subject matter and its findings into OIP's FOIA-training programs, including a FOIA Officers Conference attended by more than 300 agency representatives; (3) issuance of additional policy guidance on the preparation and submission of annual FOIA reports, see FOIA Post, "Supplemental Guidance on Annual FOIA Reports" (posted 8/14/01); (4) discussion of individual annual FOIA report issues and concerns with individual agencies, as well as with groups of agencies in cases of common concern; and (5) repeated dissemination of the need for continued agency attention to E-FOIA implementation matters through OIP's new FOIA information-dissemination vehicle, FOIA Post. See, e.g., FOIA Post, "New Attorney General FOIA Memorandum Issued" (posted 10/15/01); see also FOIA Post, "Agencies Continue E-FOIA Implementation"  (posted 3/14/01).

This recent request for an update of GAO's 2001 E-FOIA implementation report was made by the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management, and Intergovernmental Relations of the House Committee on Government Reform, which is the subcommittee that now holds jurisdiction over FOIA matters in the House of Representatives. It asked GAO to examine governmentwide progress on E-FOIA implementation since the issuance of GAO's March 2001 report, most specifically including "through development of agency electronic reading rooms."

As was the case with the original GAO review, OIP anticipates providing coordination assistance to GAO and fully supporting its update study. Thus far, it appears that this study will be undertaken by a different GAO team than the one that examined E-FOIA implementation last time, but that it will follow a similar course of review involving more than two dozen agencies.

In an even more recent development, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a request to GAO on February 28 that similarly seeks an updated review of governmentwide E-FOIA implementation activities, but also focuses on the Attorney General's FOIA Memorandum of October 12, 2001. It remains to be seen exactly how this Senate request for a broader GAO review will be acted upon, as well as whether it will have any impact on GAO's ongoing House-requested review. (posted 3/8/02)


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