CIO Briefing

More Aggressive Oversight of Agency FOIA Compliance Is Needed, GAO Says

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The government ombudsman for evaluating agencies’ compliance with the Freedom of Information Act should be more aggressive, a congressional auditor said on Tuesday.

The four-year-old Office of Government Information Services, or OGIS, should be more proactive and comprehensive in suggesting improvements to proposed FOIA regulations and in assessing agencies’ compliance with current law, the Government Accountability Office said.

OGIS has begun developing a standard methodology for reviewing agency FOIA compliance but should establish a timeline for when that methodology will be complete, GAO said.

OGIS, which was established inside the National Archives and Records Administration in 2009, has provided comments on proposed FOIA regulations at 18 of 99 agencies that administer FOIA so far, GAO said.

The ombudsman is also tasked with mediating disputes between agencies and the journalists, researchers and members of the public who make FOIA requests. GAO praised OGIS for successfully resolving about two-thirds of those disputes in a way that saved the government time, money and possibly litigation. The ombudsman should have firmer goals for its mediation efforts, however, GAO said.

A slate of OGIS recommendations to improve FOIA performance governmentwide were stalled at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for over a year before being released in April 2012 amid pressure from Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Sen. Charles Grassley, R–Iowa.

Legislation pending in the House would allow OGIS to report directly to Congress without passing its recommendations through the White House. The bill, which would also beef up other government transparency initiatives, was sponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and that committee’s ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

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// April 19