more information contact:
Thomas Blanton, Meredith Fuchs, Kristin Adair, Catherine Nielsen
D.C., 12 March 2007 - Ten
years after Congress enacted the Electronic Freedom of Information
Act Amendments (E-FOIA), only one in five federal agencies actually
complies with the law, according to a new survey released today
during Sunshine Week by the National Security Archive.
Passed in 1996 and effective in 1997, E-FOIA ordered federal
agencies to post key records online, provide citizens with detailed
guidance on making information requests, and use new information
technology to publish information proactively. The act's intent:
Expand public access and reduce the burden of FOIA requests.
But most federal agencies do not follow the law, according
to the National Security Archive's government-wide audit, "File
Not Found," conducted with support from the John S.
and James L. Knight Foundation. The Knight Open Government Survey
systematically reviewed agency Web sites to cover all 91 federal
agencies that have Chief FOIA Officers and the additional 58
agency components each of which handles more than 500 FOIA requests
a year. Key findings are:
- Only one in five federal agencies (21 percent) posts on
the Web all four categories of records that the law specifically
- Only one in 16 agencies (6 percent) posts all ten elements
of essential FOIA guidance;
- Only 36 percent of agencies provide the required indexes
- Only 26 percent of agencies provide online forms for submitting
- Many agency Web links are missing or just wrong - one FOIA
fax number checked in the Knight Survey actually rang in the
maternity ward of a military base hospital.
"Federal agencies are flunking the online test and keeping
us in the dark," said Thomas Blanton, the Archive's director.
"Some government sites just link to each other in an endless
"Public access on the Web to government information is
the only long-term solution to the backlogs and delays that
undermine the FOIA today," said the Archive's general counsel,
Meredith Fuchs. "This audit plus Congressional oversight
should provide a wake-up call to the agencies."
Fuchs cited the Education Department and NASA as "E-Stars"
with excellent FOIA Web sites, and the Air Force, Immigration
and Customs Enforcement, and Veterans Affairs as among the dozen
Last week, the Archive faxed the
top FOIA officer at each of the E-Delinquents with
advance notice of the Survey and the critical findings specific
to that agency.
"It's appropriate that this important news is being released
during Sunshine Week, when millions of Americans will be able
to see it," said Eric Newton, vice president of the journalism
program at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. "People
need to know when their government is not obeying its own laws."
The Emmy- and George Polk Award-winning National Security Archive
at the George Washington University has carried out five government-wide
audits of FOIA performance over the last five years, prompting
multiple Congressional hearings, compelling agencies to clean
up their backlogs of oldest requests, and providing evidence
for bipartisan reform legislation now pending in the Congress.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism
excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of the U.S.
communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since
1950 the foundation has granted nearly $300 million to advance
journalism quality and the freedom of expression.