Editor’s note: Sunshine Week, March 16-22, 2014, is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. This column was published by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
This Sunshine Week, the National Security Archive is reporting that 50 out of 101 agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations since the OPEN Government Act of 2007. Even fewer have updated since President Obama committed to improving the FOIA in 2009. One, the Federal Trade Commission, hasn’t updated its regulations since 1975! Luckily, the House of Representatives and the White House are, belatedly, taking up the case.
Up-to-date FOIA regulations are the most important tool FOIA officers must have — literally at their fingertips — to ensure they are processing requests correctly. As such, it’s extremely frustrating that such a basic and rudimentary step has been ignored by many agencies, and described as “not required” by the highest FOIA official in the U.S. government.
The House of Representatives recently unanimously passed the bipartisan Freedom of Information Act Implementation Act (H.R. 1211), which includes a provision compelling agencies to update their FOIA regulations. The House bill — which now awaits Senate approval — would require each agency to update its FOIA regulations “not later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act.” At the same time, the White House is addressing the problem of outdated regulations, albeit in a different manner. In its latest Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, the White House has committed (on paper, at least) to create one common, government-wide set of FOIA regulations that would make it “easier for the Government to keep regulations up to date.”
Both plans have a long way to becoming a reality. And in both cases, the devil will be in the details, and open government watchdogs must be vigilant to ensure that the regulations are progressive, rather than regressive…