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FOIA Portal Moving from Idea to Reality

Consider this: a multi-agency FOIA portal that automates FOIA processing and reporting, stores FOIA requests and responses in a repository and keeps records electronically. Not to mention allows requesters to submit requests to fewer government websites, track the status of requests and find, view and download FOIA requests and agency responses, all in a secure online environment.

Sound like a dream? It was. Now it’s becoming reality, thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Commerce and OGIS’s parent agency, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). If all goes as planned, the project goes live this fall. Agency FOIA professionals can get a first look this month.

First, a little history. More than a year ago, EPA began looking at the feasibility of such a portal. The agency administers Regulations.gov, the Federal rulemaking portal that allows people to comment on Federal regs and other agency actions. Why not, the agency thought, retool the regulations.gov infrastructure for handling FOIA requests?

Commerce and NARA, through OGIS, jumped aboard from the start, forming a multi-agency partnership last fall. More recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs has expressed interest in joining.

The cost is about $1.3 million, the bulk of which is being paid by EPA and Commerce; the partnership is seeking more agency participants for the project, which is projected to save as much as $200 million over the next five years based on governmentwide adoption. By leveraging the infrastructure of Regulations.gov, the project avoids start-up costs.

Representatives from the founding partners met earlier this month to have a look at both the agency and requester sides of the portal. The partnership is unveiling the portal to agency FOIA professionals in a series of meetings and webinars on Wednesday January 11, Thursday January 12 and Wednesday January 18.

Senior-level FOIA professionals are invited to see an overview of the portal from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday January 11 at EPA, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C.

An in-the-weeds look at the portal will be presented from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday January 12 at Commerce, across the street from EPA. Presenters, EPA and its supporting contractors, are seeking feedback from FOIA professionals about what works – and what doesn’t – about the portal before coding and testing are completed this spring.

Finally, a summary of the comments gathered on January 12 will be presented from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday January 18 at EPA.

All three presentations also will be available via webinar. Live space is limited, so registration is required. For this round, registration is limited to government employees with public previews to follow as development progresses. To register to attend either via webinar or in person, contact Tim Crawford, EPA’s senior policy adviser on open government.