One-stop shopping at electronic speed for FOIA? Led by EPA, the federal government has begun to evolve toward a high-tech vision for more open access to federal records.
The new "FOIAonline" web portal launched October 1, 2012, is a promising start — but still has a long way to go before it realizes its full potential. Watchdog groups expect that it will grow and improve.
Environmental reporters can benefit now — it allows them to submit and track FOIA requests to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) online. EPA is one of five agencies currently participating in the prototype system. Others are the National Archives and Records Administration, the Department of Commerce, the US Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The Commerce Department includes agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which are also of interest to environmental reporters.
"FOIAonline represents a major advance in bringing the federal freedom of information system into the 21st century," said Katherine McFate, CEO of the watchdog group OMB Watch. "OMB Watch has been advocating for such tools for years, and we're pleased the government has put this centralized website in place."
OMB Watch: Press release of October 1, 2012.
"New Website Will Make Government Information Easier to Obtain," OMB Watch, October 1, 2012.
"FOIA Portal Opens to Public," FierceGovernmentIT, October 1, 2012, by David Perera.
"FOIA Portal Moving from Idea to Reality," The FOIA Ombudsman blog, National Archives, January 9, 2012, by Kirsten Mitchell.
"New FOIA Portal Promotes Transparency, Eases Agency Interactions," Federal Radio News, October 2, 2012, by Michael O'Connell.