The Department of Justice marked the start of Sunshine Week today with the launch of FOIA.gov, the “flagship initiative” of the department’s Open Government Plan and one of the most significant contributions yet toward making this the most transparent administration in history.
“The Administration’s openness initiatives are central to this President’s approach to governing. Where we can open up the process of governing and enlist our fellow citizens to participate in solving the challenges we face, we’re all going to be better off,” said Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli. “We believe very simply that if we give people the information they seek, they will create a better government.”
FOIA.gov, brings together all the FOIA data collected by the department on behalf of the federal government.
“As we look forward, today we are pleased to unveil an initiative that will make FOIA easier for the thousands of Americans who use it to find out more about their government or to gain access to information that can make their lives better,” explained Perrelli. “The site is designed not just to make FOIA easier. It tries to make FOIA better.”
FOIA.gov was inspired by public feedback gathered during the Open Government dialogues last year. FOIA.gov:
- Allows the public to easily search, sort and compare data from annual Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reportsm,
- Offers a plain language explanation of the law,
- Explains how to submit a request, how requests are processed, and
- Provides detailed information on where to send a FOIA request.
At an event held this morning in the department’s Great Hall, experts from across the federal government came together to discuss the ways they are implementing the President and Attorney General’s transparency initiatives.
“The Freedom of Information Act is a vital part of our democracy,” said Melanie Anne Pustay, Director of the Office of Information Policy. ”Greater transparency and a more open government are happening right now, as a direct result of the actions that have been taken by all agencies, large and small, to implement the President’s and Attorney General’s initiatives.”
The Office of Information Policy, which oversees compliance with the FOIA for the entire federal government, released a summary of these achievements which detail how agencies are putting into practice a “presumption of openness” as directed by the President’s directive and the Attorney General’s FOIA guidelines of 2009. For example:
- The Department’s rate of disclosure spiked for both releases in full and in part in 2010 -- with full releases jumping by 21 percent over 2009, and partial releases increasing by 18.2 percent.
- The Office of the Secretary of Defense/Joint Staff posted 85 percent of all of its FOIA responses --totaling over 300,000 pages -- on its website, and moved to require all 31 Department of Defense components to follow suit.
- Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) achieved a backlog reduction of 66 percent, after nearly doubling the resources it committed to FOIA and creating a “Backlog Strike Force.”
- By making process changes and focusing on strategic goals, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) slashed its backlog from 88,361 FOIA requests in 2006 to approximately 8,000 backlog cases at the end of FY 2010, for an over 90 percent total reduction.