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Agencies Still Struggling to Effectively Implement the Freedom of Information Act
WASHINGTON, March 10, 2014—In a new report published today (see PDF), the Center for Effective Government grades 15 key agencies on how well they have implemented our most fundamental right-to-know law – the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). While several agencies received top scores in one of the three areas examined, no one agency earned a top overall grade of an A, and seven agencies received failing grades.
"In each area we examined, we found a few agencies that were performing exceptionally well, demonstrating that excellence is possible,” said Katherine McFate, President and CEO of the Center for Effective Government. "But the fact that no agency achieved a top grade across all three areas illustrates the difficulty agencies are having with implementation overall. Agencies face a variety of challenges, depending on their request loads, the kind of information they manage, and the manpower they have available to do the job. But there is clearly much room for improvement."
The report, Making the Grade: Access to Information Scorecard 2014 Shows Key Agencies Still Struggling to Effectively Implement the Freedom of Information Act, measures three areas of performance for the 15 agencies that received the most FOIA requests in Fiscal Year 2012:
Processing requests for information (how quickly agencies responded to requests, how frequently agencies granted requests, and how well agency appeals worked);
Establishing rules for information access (effectiveness of agency policy to establish good communications with requesters, streamline the review process to speed responses, and maximize disclosure of records); and
Creating user-friendly websites (facilitating the flow of information to citizens, online services, and up-to-date online reading rooms).
In each of the three performance areas, at least one agency earned an A, showing that excellence is possible. But the highest overall grade was only a B (the Social Security Administration received a B and the Department of Justice a B-). Consistency across each performance area was elusive.
"Many agencies could easily raise their grades by making some commonsense adjustments in the way they process requests, by making disclosure a priority for agency staff, and by improving search features and user interfaces on the disclosure sections of their websites," said Sean Moulton, Director of Open Government Policy and one of the authors of the report.
Moulton concluded, "By identifying current best practices and agencies that score well, as well as existing shortcomings, we hope to encourage public officials to continue to improve the policies and practices of their agencies to ensure the public’s right to know is guaranteed."