FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: Recap of FOIA Advisory Committee meeting

FOIA News (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Government only as transparent as its technology, advocates say

By Bianca Spinosa, FCW, Apr. 19, 2016

The National Archives and Records Administration's Freedom of Information Act Advisory Committee met in Washington on April 19, and called for several reforms to ensure the FOIA process better serves the public interest.

Committee members voted to ask the Office of Management and Budget to update its fee guidelines for FOIA requests, last changed in 1986. They also passed several motions aimed at bringing FOIA processes into the 21st century, including allowing agencies to release requested documents via email and recognizing online media as media sources.

The committee also hosted Margaret Kwoka, an assistant professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, who shared her research on the commercial use of FOIA at six federal agencies. In a paper titled  "FOIA, Inc.," Kwoka argued that corporations have overrun FOIA processes at some agencies, clogging the system and "crowding out" journalists and other government watchdogs. Her report urges agencies to affirmatively disclose records that are routinely requested through FOIA.

Kwoka's research seemed to resonate with the committee, which was established in 2013 as part of the United States' second Open Government National Action Plan.  "It really changed my mindset," committee chair James Holzer said of the study.

Committee member Clay Johnson, a former Presidential Innovation Fellow and founder of the Department of Better Technology, also applauded Kwoka's critiques, and said dated technology is at least partly to blame for FOIA's shortcomings.

"I came to the conclusion that government can only be as transparent as its technology vendors will allow for it to be," he said.

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