Back in January, we reported that several Federal agencies had partnered to develop an online system aimed at expanding public access to information requested under FOIA.
We’re pleased to report that FOIAonline is live!
Beginning October 1, requesters seeking records from five Federal agencies can use FOIAonline to submit FOIA requests, track their progress, communicate with the processing agency, search other requests, access previously released responsive documents and file appeals with participating agencies. And that’s just on the requester side.
For agencies, FOIAonline provides a secure website to receive and store requests, assign and process requests, post responses, generate metrics, manage records electronically and create management reports.
Oh yes, and electronically generate the annual reports required by FOIA, a feature FOIA professionals are sure to embrace.
Six Federal agencies now have partnered to develop and deploy FOIAonline: OGIS’s parent agency, the National Archives and Records Administration; the Departments of Commerce and Treasury; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the Federal Labor Relations Authority; and the Merit Systems Protection Board, each of which will deploy on its own schedule. (A note to NARA requesters: requesters seeking operational records of the National Archives may use FOIAonline. Requesters seeking access to records accessioned to the National Archives by Federal agencies, must still file FOIA requests to the Special Access and FOIA Staff.)
While requesters can send requests to the participating agencies now, the data available in the system are initially minimal and vary by agency. The partner agencies will continue to enhance the system and they welcome other agencies’ participation.
EPA began looking at the feasibility of a FOIA portal in 2010 with the idea of leveraging Regulations.gov, the Federal rulemaking portal that allows people to comment on Federal regulations and other agency regulatory actions. EPA administers Regulations.gov, which launched in 2002 and now has 38 partner agencies that govern and financially support the program. By leveraging the infrastructure of Regulations.gov, FOIAonline avoided many start-up costs, resulting in a total of $1.3 million to launch and an estimated cost avoidance of $200 million over the next five years if broadly adopted.
In a March 19, 2012, letter to Cass Sunstein, then Administrator, Office of Information and Regulatory Policy, Office of Management and Budget, a group of organizations from the requester community said the FOIA portal (now FOIAonline), “offers the best hope for improving the Administration’s compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and affording the public the broadest access to government documents.”
Have questions or an interest in joining the partnership? Contact Tim Crawford, EPA’s senior policy adviser on open government.