Open Government Progress: September, 2011

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The Justice Department Celebrates the United States' Entry into the Open Government Partnership

Background | Accomplishments | Announcement


Background

President Obama has made openness a high priority in his Administration, committing his Administration to an "unprecedented level of openness in Government" on his first full day in office. Since then, the Administration has:

  • disclosed more information requested under the Freedom of Information Act;
  • made voluminous information available on government websites;
  • used technology in innovative ways that harness government information to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.

As President Obama today signs the Open Government Partnership declaration, the Justice Department is proud to highlight some of the ways that it has advanced America's domestic open government agenda and created a more efficient and effective government through greater transparency, participation, and collaboration.


Accomplishments

FOIA.Gov: As its "flagship initiative," the Justice Department pledged a new "FOIA Dashboard" to enable the public to track and measure FOIA compliance for all 97 agencies subject to the FOIA. The concept for the site was to display graphically the data contained in agency Annual FOIA Reports. As it was being developed, the department continued to add features to the new site, greatly expanding its scope, so that the site is now an all new one-stop shop both for those interested in agency compliance with the FOIA and those interested in accessing information through the law.

As a comprehensive public resource for government-wide FOIA compliance data, FOIA.Gov displays graphically a wealth of data on agency FOIA processing, including the numbers of FOIA requests made and processed by each agency, the disposition of those requests, the time taken to respond, and any backlogs of pending requests. That data can be compared and contrasted between agencies and over time. Users can select the criteria they want to examine and then run a report on the site. The department also generates reports that would be of interest to the public and includes those on the site.

As an educational resource, FOIA.Gov contains material about how the FOIA works and what to expect during the process, and also provides contact information for all government agencies with links to their FOIA websites. Explanatory videos are embedded in the site, and frequently asked questions and a glossary of FOIA terms are included, all to enhance public understanding of the FOIA process. There are links spotlighting significant releases made by agencies, both to highlight the work of agencies and to provide the public with examples of the types of documents made available under the FOIA. There is also a section on FOIA news. The expanded dashboard went live in March 2011.

In response to public feedback, several improvements have been made to the site, including the addition of a "FOIA Contacts" button that appears on every page, the inclusion of explanatory icons, the redesign and simplification of certain features, and the expansion of the "News" page.
The department is currently working on adding a new search capability to the site that would allow a user to search across agency websites to locate records and data on a given topic that is already publicly available. As agencies increasingly post material of interest to the public, the department is working to make improvements in how the public can more readily access that information directly from FOIA.Gov.

Research and Historical Interest: The department's library staff, working with the DOJ Office of the Chief Information Officer's E-Gov Staff, began in July, 2011 an effort to post newly digitized DOJ Library resources. These are print resources that had previously been available to department employees only. Now, these DOJ-unique resources are being made available to the public for the first time through the department's Internet website to provide an array of documents for public review and research. These documents will prove to be a treasure trove to librarians, researchers and anyone else interested in the department's history and documents.

Legislative Histories: On July 19, 2011, 28 digitized legislative histories were posted on the DOJ website for public use. These histories track the development and passage of laws that were deemed of interest to the department or in which the department played a vital role. Another four digitized extensive legislative histories from the DOJ library staff's collections will be added in the near future. The legislative histories can now be accessed via the department's home page's top navigation bar dropdown options 'Resources' -- 'Legislative Histories' as well as through the following direct link: http://www.justice.gov/jmd/ls/legislative_histories/legislative-histories.html.

Attorneys General Speeches: Also in July, 2011, the library staff began posting thousands of digitized pages of Attorneys' General speeches dating from 1933 to 2009. Currently, the speeches of 20 of the 82 Attorneys General are available on the department's website for public use, with more planned to be added in the near future. Links to the available digitized speeches have been added to each of the "Attorneys General of the United States (1789 - Present)" biography web pages as the speeches are posted: http://www.justice.gov/ag/aghistlist.php.

Attorney General's Calendar: We have begun posting the calendar of the Attorney General online. In order to be sure that sensitive privacy, law enforcement or litigation interests are not compromised, the calendar must be carefully scrutinized before posting. However, the Attorney General believes that his meetings and activities should be accessible by the public. Thus, redactions have been kept to a minimum, consistent with the principles laid out in the Attorney General's FOIA guidelines. Members of the Open Government Working Group have also offered to advise other agencies on how to go about posting the calendars of their senior leaders. In order to balance pending requests for past calendars with interest in more recent calendars, the Department is processing alternating batches of early and more current calendars.

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Announcement

An open and good government is much more than releasing information. It is about harnessing the skills and talents of the American people, establishing
greater collaboration among Federal agencies, and ensuring that the taxpayer's money is wisely spent.

To that end, today, the department is recommitting itself to the principles that the President announced on his first day in office and exemplified in our work since then.

FOIA Technology: In the upcoming months the Department of Justice plans to convene an Interagency Technology Working Group to focus on expanding the use of technology in the core elements of FOIA administration. Agencies across the government have already embraced technology to assist in receipt and tracking of requests and generation of Annual FOIA Reports. The next horizon is harnessing the power of technology to improve the multi-step processes undertaken by agencies in order to respond to requests, including searching for and processing records responsive to each request.

For example, technological tools can assist agency personnel in simultaneously searching multiple records custodians, using sophisticated search terms. Technology tools can then pre-process the responsive records, including de-duping and threading of emails. Technology can also facilitate review of documents by multiple agencies through use of shared platforms. The time savings involved in automating all these otherwise heavily labor-intensive activities should be quite significant. By gaining efficiencies in the steps required to process requests, agencies will realize time savings, which, in turn, will allow them to respond to requests more quickly and to reduce backlogs.

In the upcoming Fiscal Year, the Office of Information Policy plans to seek input from all interested stakeholders and lead an effort across the government to transform the administration of the FOIA by harnessing the powerful capabilities of technology

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