Department of Justice celebrates Sunshine Week

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Earlier this afternoon the Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder celebrated Sunshine Week by highlighting the federal government’s progress “in realizing the promise of the Freedom of Information Act.” Holder and four additional speakers pointed out what they called positive steps taken in 2011 to reduce request backlogs, improve processes, and operate under a “presumption of openness.” This positive news was tempered by today’s Associated Press report that indicates that the federal government is still struggling with FOIA backlogs.

In touting the Department’s accomplishments, Holder  looked toward the future and presented some improvements to FOIA currently being instituted by the DOJ. He announced  the DOJ will start posting monthly logs of FOIA requests made to senior leadership offices. The logs will “publicly identify the subject matter and disposition of each request” in an attempt to make it easier for people to locate information they are interested in. The department is also working on a new way for the public to submit and track FOIA requests to the DOJ’s senior leadership online.

Additionally, the department is rolling out two new tools in an attempt to make FOIA.gov more responsive; a simplified government-wide search function and an integrated FOIA request process.

Four speakers from across the federal government joined Holder and touted the progress their offices made on FOIA issues

  • Carolyn Colvin, Deputy Commissioner at the Social Security Administration, spoke to the SSA’s successful implementation of a FOIA Process Evaluation Working Group, which helped improve efficiency.
  • Austin Schlick, General Counsel and Chief FOIA Officer at the FCC, highlighted the overhauled FCC website and greater online access to Commission information.
  • Darren Ash, CIO and Chief FOIA Officer at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, described the NRC’s efforts to deal with a surge of FOIA requests following the tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan last year.
  • Robert Howarth, Deputy Director of Correspondence, Document Production and FOIA Management at the Department of Interior, detailed a reorganization of FOIA leadership at the DOI.

Attorney General Holder’s full remarks can be read here.

Update: The National Security Archive has responded to Holder’s speech. They strongly criticize the Attorney General for citing discredited statistics in his remarks. They also note that the DOJ has attempted to issue reductive regulations, waged a “war on leakers”, and increasingly relied on several exemptions throughout Holder’s tenure. The National Security Archive recently awarded the Department of Justice their Rosemary Award for worst open government performance by a federal agency in 2011.

Policy Fellow Matt Rumsey wrote this post. 

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