New U.S. Open Government NAP No Snore for FOIA Fans

NAP3The Administration released its third Open Government National Action Plan (NAP) on Tuesday October 27. The release of NAP 3.0 coincided with the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Mexico.

The multi-national Open Government Partnership was created to encourage governments to commit to making their country more open and accountable to the public. Countries participating in the Open Government Partnership are required to consult with civil society and develop plans that include concrete steps the government will take over the next two years to increase transparency.

As the Nation’s record keeper, the National Archives and Records Administration has a leading role in several of the new NAP commitments, including commitments to modernize the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Strengthening FOIA was a component of both the First U.S. NAP, which was released in July 2011, and the Second U.S. NAP, released in December 2013. We are happy that NAP 3.0 continues to focus on improving FOIA.

The new FOIA commitments are:

  • Expand the Services Offered on The Administration will harness technology to improve the services offered on gov. Building upon the commitment from the second NAP to launch a consolidated online FOIA service, the Department of Justice will collaborate with agencies, seek public input, review existing technologies such as FOIAonline, and leverage technological tools to expand on the existing Additional new features will also be explored, including a guided request tool, online tracking of request status, simplified reporting methods for agencies, improved FOIA contact information, and tools that will enhance the public’s ability to locate already posted information.
  • Improve Agency Proactive Disclosures by Posting FOIA-Released Records Online. The Department of Justice will lead a pilot program with seven agencies to test the feasibility of posting FOIA-released records online so that they are available to the public. The pilot will seek to answer important questions including costs associated with such a policy, effect on staff time required to process requests, effect on interactions with government stakeholders, and the justification for exceptions to such a policy, such as for personal privacy. As part of the pilot, the Department of Justice will get input from civil society stakeholders, including requesters and journalists. Upon completion of the pilot, the Justice Department will make the results available to the public.
  • Improve Agency FOIA Websites. The Administration will issue guidance and create best practices for agency FOIA web pages, including developing a template for key elements to encourage all agencies to update their FOIA websites to be consistent, informative, and user-friendly.
  • Increase Understanding of FOIA. The National Archives will develop tools to teach students about FOIA, drawing upon real-world examples to foster democracy and explain how the public can use FOIA to learn more about the government’s actions. The National Archives will seek partnerships with outside educational and library organizations to create and promote standards-compatible curriculum resources that teachers can use in government, history, or civics classes. All developed resources will be posted online.
  • Proactively Release Nonprofit Tax Filings. Tax filings for nonprofit organizations contain data that is legally required to be publicly released. Accessing the filings generally requires a request from the public, which can include a FOIA request, and results in more than 40 million pages provided in a non-machine-readable format. The Internal Revenue Service will launch a new process that will remove personally identifiable information before releasing the public information within electronically filed nonprofit tax filings. The electronically filed tax filings will be released as open, machine-readable data, allowing the public to review the finances and other information of more than 340,000 American nonprofit and charitable organizations.

OGIS looks forward to working with our colleagues at the National Archives, the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice, and other agencies to accomplish these commitments.

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