FOIA Fever: It’s Contagious
We’ve written about the positive difference that executive support for FOIA can make in federal agencies. We’ve made this point in our recommendations and, whenever we can, we encourage agencies to make FOIA a priority (and communicate this across the board).
One effective way that agency heads can spread the word that FOIA matters is through a Memorandum. We were thrilled when David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, issued such a communiqué to all NARA employees in March. It seems that the FOIA bug is spreading: on August 27, Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz sent a memorandum to the heads of all of the Department of Energy’s offices stating his support for FOIA and encouraging them to do the same:
MEMORANDUM FOR HEADS OF DEPARTMENTAL ELEMENTS
FROM: ERNEST J. MONIZ
SUBJECT: FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
On his first day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum describing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as “the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.” The President urged agencies to respond to FOIA requests promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that we are servants of the public. This includes disclosing requested information when possible, implementing effective systems for responding to requests, and proactively providing documents in the internet.
I support fully the President’s commitment to open government and transparency. I understand that over the past four years, the Department has worked diligently to support these ideals by disclosing more documents to the public and proactively releasing information on the internet. We also improved our FOIA infrastructure by establishing enhanced systems for receiving FOIA requests and monitoring responses. To demonstrate our continuing commitment to the President’s policy, we must now improve our response time to FOIA requests and promptly close longstanding requests.
I expect the Department’s senior leaders to continue to support the President’s guidance regarding transparency and make certain that FOIA requests assigned to their organization are responded to in an expeditious manner. Senior leaders should make certain that their organizations devote the resources necessary to implement this direction.
We thank Secretary Moniz for his commitment to FOIA. We encourage the heads of other agencies to send a similar communiqué to their employees to remind them that when we work together, FOIA works better.