UPDATE – 3:07 PM Due to technical difficulties on the House committee website, I am unable to view this hearing. Therefore, I cannot live blog the hearing and report on the testimony. I will NOT be live blogging. If the issues with the website are worked out, I may post a quick report on the hearing here at The Dissenter.

Original Post

A hearing on improving and bringing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) into the 21st Century is being held by the House subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform. It is to be chaired by James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma.

The House Committee on Government Oversight & Reform says the hearing “will focus on the lack of progress of federal agencies to use information technology to increase transparency and improve processing of Freedom of Information Act requests.” The hearing could be a great opportunity for Republican congressman to engage in partisan attacks on government. It also could be a good hearing that gives attention to very real issues related to the government’s compliance and response to FOIA requests.

The witnesses include:

  • Ms. Miriam Nisbet, Director, Office of Government Information Services, National Archives & Records Administration
  • Mr. Andrew Battin, Director, Office of Information Collection, Environmental Protection Agency
  • Ms. Melanie Ann Pustay, Director, Office of Information Policy, U.S. Department of Justice
  • Mr. Sean Moulton, Director of Federal Information Policy, OMB Watch

Nisbet and Pustay were both witnesses for Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Sunshine Week hearing on FOIA exemptions under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which I live blogged.

All witness statements are posted here for viewing.

The hearing was scheduled to begin at 2:00 pm EST but has been delayed and will begin at 2:40 pm EST.

From Moulton’s prepared testimony:

We recommend the development of a robust E-FOIA system that would allow the public to submit and track requests at a centralized site and to receive responses electronically. Such a system would:

  • Allow the public to submit electronic requests either by e-mail or through an agency website (This would require posting an e-mail address on each agency website and in each agency’s FOIA regulations, as well as establishing a web form for FOIA requests)
  • Include an easy-to-understand explanation of how to submit a FOIA request, how the agency will process the request, and the individual’s rights and responsibilities under the agency’s FOIA procedures (Agencies should also include links to more detailed information, such as the agency’s FOIA regulations, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) website, and FOIA.gov)
  • Ensure that FOIA requesters can communicate easily with the agency by widely publicizing the contact information, including telephone and e-mail address, of the FOIA office
  • Establish an online service to allow FOIA requesters to automatically check the status of their request or appeal by entering the tracking number on a website; Establish categories of the records that can be proactively posted online regularly
  • Post online, in a searchable system, all significant documents released under any FOIA request – without waiting for a second FOIA request.

Moulton notes in his assessment of how the Obama administration has handled FOIA requests that presidential administrations typically fulfill “at least part of a request” if the request is processed. Compared to other presidential administration, Obama is more likely to grant part of the request than the previous Clinton or Bush administrations. Obama partially granted information in 50% of FOIA requests, compared to 30% for Bush and 17% for Clinton.

Watch the hearing here. As noted above, it begins at 2:40 pm ET. And, this post will become a live blog covering the hearing with updates at the top.