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Project on Government Oversight

POGO and Partners Urge DOJ to Support the FOIA Portal

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April 11, 2012

Melanie Pustay
Director, Office of Information Policy, Department of Justice
Suite 11050
1425 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Ms. Pustay,

On behalf of the undersigned organizations concerned with government openness and accountability, we are writing to urge you to take concrete steps to support the FOIA Portal under development by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with assistance from the Department of Commerce and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). We especially encourage you to work with the project’s leaders to develop a standard format for online Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and promote the use of the format across the government.

We are happy to hear in your testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform and recent news reports that the Office of Information Policy (OIP) supports the development of the FOIA Portal. We strongly believe that the FOIA Portal offers the best hope for improving the administration’s compliance with the FOIA and affording the public the broadest access to government documents. The FOIA Portal should help agencies manage their requests electronically, track the processing workflow, and – by building public release into the system – reduce the number of times documents are reviewed by FOIA reviewers. The FOIA Portal should also help people easily make requests for government documents to multiple agencies simultaneously, check on the status of their requests, and retrieve their documents electronically.

Working with the FOIA Portal’s developers to create a standard online FOIA request form and promoting the use of the form across the government would be a positive, concrete show of support for the project, and should increase the benefit of the FOIA Portal once it is operational. We understand that if your office works with the developers of the FOIA Portal to create a standard online FOIA request form and you promote the adoption of the format across the government, the FOIA Portal could be easily set up to allow a requester to make a single request to all or any combination of agencies across the federal government. While most agencies do now accept online submission of FOIA requests, the more than 100 different links to particular government components can be a confusing field to navigate for requesters who may not even be certain which components may have responsive records. Furthermore, while all of the components collect essentially the same information from requesters, there is great variation in how the information must be entered by the requester.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this issue. To discuss our request in greater detail, please contact Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, at 202-332-6736 or pmcdermott@openthegovernment.org.

Sincerely,

American Association of Law Libraries
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – CREW
Electronic Privacy Information Center – EPIC
National Security Archive
OMB Watch
OpenTheGovernment.org
Project On Government Oversight - POGO

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