House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

Agencies poorly track FOIA requests, report says

Agencies poorly track FOIA requests, report says
By Ed O'Keefe

Obama made government transparency concerns a top priority of his early days as president. (J. Scott Applewhite - AP) Eleven of 17 Cabinet-level agencies fail to fully comply with federal law requiring complete inventories of public records requests, and most large agencies earn a subpar grade for records management, according to a new congressional report.

The report, set for release Thursday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is meant to draw attention to government transparency issues during this year’s Sunshine Week, an annual event designed to raise awareness about access to public records.

The report does not probe how often agencies grant or deny Freedom of Information Act requests, but instead focuses on a key facet of FOIA law requiring agencies to track every request made by people or organizations for public information. The committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), asked 100 large and small federal agencies to provide information on their FOIA tracking systems. Each agency received a letter grade based on a seven-point criteria, including whether agencies produced digitized records that included the date of a request, the name of the requester and a description of the information requested.

“A number of agencies demonstrated that they are able to track basic information about requests, while others either would not or could not provide such information as requested,” the report said. The fact that several agencies “struggle to demonstrate transparency about very basic information is troubling and necessitates greater scrutiny.”