FOIA Successes

March 14, 2012
Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966 to give people access to government information and charged the executive branch with the important responsibility of administering the law. The Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy oversees agency compliance with the FOIA and encourages all agencies to fully comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law. As a result, all agencies are required to report to the Department of Justice on their FOIA compliance through the submission of Annual FOIA Reports. Annual FOIA reports contain detailed statistics about an agency’s FOIA performance throughout the year. In 2009, as a part of his FOIA Guidelines, Attorney General Eric Holder asked agencies to go beyond the numbers. He highlighted the important role played by the Chief FOIA Officers (CFOs) at each federal agency and called on them to review the administration of the FOIA at their agency and report on their efforts to improve FOIA operations. These Chief FOIA Officer reports allow agencies to outline and describe the wide variety of concrete steps undertaken to implement the Attorney General’s Guidelines, many of which are unquantifiable through the statistical annual reporting.  They have become a vital tool for assessing the varied and continued strides that agencies are making in improving FOIA operations across the government. Agencies are institutionalizing the presumption of openness through training and outreach. They are overhauling their FOIA systems from the ground up and embracing technology both in the processing of records and in the release of information. They are developing apps and allowing requesters to submit and track requests online.  In short, they are making the FOIA better. The 2012 Chief FOIA Officer Reports demonstrate that agencies have continued the hard work of the past two years and are building upon the foundation of the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines to promote greater transparency and FOIA efficiency at their agencies.  These efforts include:
  • The Economic Research Service at the Department of Agriculture published its Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America, an innovative online mapping tool that provides county-level statistical data on the people, jobs, agriculture, and characteristics of counties across the United States.  The Atlas is relied upon by policymakers and members of the public with the need for data on population, age structure, race and ethnicity, income, employment, agricultural well-being, and other statistical information.
  • The Department of the Treasury conducted a Six Sigma review of its FOIA administration to eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies in its process.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families installed a live chat feature on its website through which users can engage with an Information Specialist who will assist with questions, concerns, or trouble locating agency information.
These are just a small fraction of the dynamic range of success stories reported by agencies in their 2012 Chief FOIA Officer Reports.  The Office of Information Policy has compiled a selection of these successes from across federal departments.  We also encourage you to read about the many transparency initiatives by viewing the 2012 Chief FOIA Officer Reports from all federal departments and agencies. You can find them on our Reports page. For more information please visit the Office of Information Policy and FOIA.gov

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Updated August 6, 2014