The Electronic Freedom of Information Act (E-FOIA) offers a starting point for affirmative and proactive government transparency efforts. The law requires agencies to make available online basic information about agency practices and policies and, most significantly, information requested or likely to be requested frequently under FOIA.
Unfortunately, many agencies have not complied fully with E-FOIA, have interpreted the law too narrowly, or have been unwilling to go further than the minimum that the law requires. Effecting full compliance with both the letter and the spirit of E-FOIA across the federal government would go a long way towards achieving President Obama’s vision of government transparency. Indeed, a true presumption of openness would presume that all non-Privacy Act FOIA requests are of interest to the public and would result in the posting online of virtually all records provided to the public in response to a FOIA request.
The framework established in the E-FOIA Amendments is familiar to agencies and provides a useful starting point for the Obama administration to broaden existing policy and practice with regard to affirmative and proactive disclosure of government information. The Department of Justice Office of Information Policy should be tasked with initiating a program to educate agencies on their obligations and advise agencies on best practices and developing a schedule for agencies to meet milestones related to affirmative and proactive online posting of records. The General Services Administration or another appropriate agency should be directed to support agency efforts to make their electronic reading rooms more usable, including development of standardized metadata for use in this process. Agencies should be required to report publicly on a regular basis on their progress in meeting their milestones.