A FOIA Dashboard: Getting it right

We’re excited to see that the Justice Department will be creating a FOIA Dashboard as its flagship program to let the public and agencies see how agencies are faring in fulfulling FOIA requests, and to help agencies compare their performance with other agencies to see where they can improve.  We’ll be writing more about what should go into this dashboard and what it should allow agencies and the public to do, but here’s a first take.

The goal of this effort should be to help agencies identify problems, set goals to respond to FOIA requests quicker and with better decisions, and share how they are doing with the public in meeting those goals.  So the dashboard is about keeping agencies accountable but more importantly helping the FOIA work better.

We hope this becomes the beginning step in modernizing FOIA so that whenever the public seeks information the government has not chosen to proactively release, the government provides information the public is entitled to (in keeping with interests such as national security and privacy) in a timely manner.

This is also a big step forward from the current way the agencies’ annual reports on FOIA are made public.  In years past we’ve (and by that I mean Pete Weitzel, the distinguished former Miami Herald who coordinated the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government for several years before it closed its doors, has) been forced to copying the numbers agencies report from the PDF files, and rebuilding the data into spreadsheet and a dozen charts.  If Justice gets this right, anyone should be able to quickly see how agencies are faring in backlogs, moving requests along, handling appeals in a timely manner, and meeting the improvement goals these agencies set for themselves.

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About sunshineingov
Coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative

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