The News Without Transparency: DEA FOIA rejections have increased 114 percent since the end of Bush administration

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FOIA.gov can’t improve federal agencies’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) compliance. But, it can help expose their FOIA deficiencies.

Last month, Reason.com dug into FOIA.gov data for a piece on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) FOIA performance during the Obama Administration. The report found that the DEA has increased its use of various exceptions to the FOIA over the first several years of the Obama administration. In 2011 the agency claimed over 1,000 more exemptions than in 2008.

While this analysis would have been possible before the launch of FOIA.gov, the information available through the web portal likely made the process less complicated and time consuming. As illustrated by the NSA Archive’s Dan Jenkins, FOIA.gov aggregates data that was previously very hard to parse:

The new FOIA.gov is certainly an attractive website and does a tremendous job aggregating FOIA data.  Based on my own personal experience with the FOIA audit, trying to get this kind of aggregated data is downright frustrating.  Before the new FOIA.gov, the only options for getting these kind of numbers was to either check the wildly inconsistent (in content and availability) FOIA report summaries from the FOIA Post or sitting down and going through each agency FOIA report with a calculator and Job’s patience.

FOIA.gov was launched as the “flagship initiative” of the Justice Department’s open government plan. It provides a one stop source for information about the FOIA process, “allowing the public to easily track information about FOIA compliance.” The portal provides data on individual agencies’ FOIA performance, including information on the number of requests received, released, and denied by each federal agency. It also helps citizens utilize the FOIA, explaining how to format a request, identifying the appropriate place at each agency to direct it, and answering other frequently asked questions.

FOIA.gov has received some criticism from watchdog groups for having technical issues and low data quality. But, it has also helped inform journalists, members of Congress and the public.

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“The News Without Transparency” shows you what the news would look like without public access to information. Laws and regulations that force the government to make the data it has publicly available are absolutely vital, along with services that take that raw data and make it easy for reporters to write sentences like the ones we’ve redacted in the piece above. If you have an article you’d like us to put through the redaction machine, please send us an email at rsibley@sunlightfoundation.com.

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