the Full Report (PDF-671 KB)
the Briefing Packet (PDF-375 KB)
Reading Rooms: File Not Found
Guidance for the Public: File Not Found
Web Sites: Missing Links
One: Glossary of Agency Acronyms (PDF-57 KB)
Two: Glossary of Internet Terminology (PDF-57
Three: Web Site Review Data (PDF-81 KB)
Four: Web Site Review Template (PDF-128 KB)
Letters to E-Delinquents
In 1996, Congress sought to revolutionize
disclosure of government information to the public by directing
federal agencies to use the Internet to make more information
publicly available. Congress saw on the horizon huge returns:
more public access to important government information and less
time and money spent at agencies to process Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA) requests.
in Web access. Most government documents
available on the Web as a matter of course. When agencies
anticipate significant public interest in a topic
or event, they post key records before FOIA requests
FOIA requests. Public has immediate access
to vital records online without adding another FOIA
request into the backlogged system.
FOIA tools. Agencies provide FOIA requesters
with information they need to make a request and comprehensive
guides to agency records, reducing the administrative
10 YEARS LATER
have not obeyed the law.
o Only 1 in 5 posts all required records.
o Only 1 in 16 provides complete guidance for requesters.
o FOIA Web sites are poorly organized, difficult
Ten years after the provisions of the Electronic Freedom of
Information Act Amendments (E-FOIA) came into force, the Executive
Branch still has not obeyed Congress's mandate for change. The
National Security Archive's Knight Open Government Survey of
149 federal agency and component Web sites found massive non-compliance
with E-FOIA. The poor state of agencies' FOIA Web sites forces
the conclusion that not only did the agencies ignore Congress,
but lack of interest in FOIA programs is so high that many agencies
have failed even to keep their FOIA Web sites on par with their
general agency Web sites. Congress's best intentions have not
had the desired impact.
Key findings of the Knight Open Government Survey are:
- Only about one in five (21%) of the agencies reviewed
had on its FOIA site all four categories of records that Congress
explicitly required agencies to post. (See Figure
1.) This audit found 41% of the agencies had not even posted
frequently requested records. (See Figure 2.) Agencies have
generally failed to use the Internet as a means to reduce
the FOIA burden by posting as a matter of course records related
to matters of strong public interest or categories of records
generally requested by the public.
- Only one in sixteen agencies (6%) had on its Web
site all ten elements of essential FOIA guidance that the
Archive's audit identified based on the E-FOIA statute, legislative
history, and DOJ guidance. (See Figures 3 and 4.)
These include basic information on: (1) where to send a FOIA
request (by mail and by fax or electronically), (2) fee status,
(3) fee waivers, (4) expedited processing, (5) reply time,
(6) exemptions, (7) administrative appeal rights, (8) where
to send an administrative appeal, (9) judicial review rights,
and (10) an index of records or major information systems.
- Only about one in three agencies (36%) provided
required indexes and guides to agency records, and many of
those are incomprehensible or unhelpful. The guidelines
for major information system indexes and the related Government
Information Locator Service (GILS) program need a major overhaul.
- Agencies have not incorporated many useful online tools
that could ease their processing burden. Only about
one in four agencies (26%) has developed a Web-based FOIA
- Many agency FOIA Web sites are poorly organized
and difficult to navigate. Even on sites that provide
some or all of the required materials, users may be unable
to find the information they are seeking because agencies
have not made an effort to design user-friendly FOIA sites.
The organization of decentralized agency Web sites in particular
is more likely to confuse FOIA requesters than help them.
These agencies must establish agency-wide policies and exercise
direction and oversight over their components' FOIA programs,
particularly in the area of E-FOIA compliance.
Agencies clearly have failed to keep pace with the revolution
in access to information. Today, nearly three-quarters of the
adult public has Internet access, and the Web has become a principal
means of conducting a broad range of personal and business communications.
Yet the Knight Open Government Survey showed extremely disparate
levels of effort by agencies to use FOIA Web sites as a means
to communicate with the public.
There are several outstanding agencies whose efforts in complying
with E-FOIA demonstrate that the burden of the law is not too
high. For example, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration
has proactively posted records of great interest to
the public, such as those related to the Space Shuttle
Columbia disaster. Also, the Department of Education provides
excellent guidance and tools such as online forms for FOIA requesters.
However, this audit identified a much larger number of agencies
that are delinquent in complying with E-FOIA. For example, Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (a Department of Homeland Security component)
has no dedicated FOIA page at all; and the Air Force
has not posted any of the required records.
The Archive has sent letters to the Chief FOIA Officer or other
FOIA administrator at each of the worst agencies, laying out
the deficiencies found in their FOIA Web sites and recommending
No authority has compelled federal agencies to comply with
the E-FOIA Amendments. This dearth of Executive Branch leadership
and Congressional oversight on E-FOIA matters has allowed many
agencies to remain far out of compliance for far too long. It
is time for FOIA finally to catch up with the information revolution.
Section - E-Stars and E-Delinquents ->