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Report: Half of agency FOIA regulations out of date

Mar. 21, 2014 - 03:57PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments

Nearly half of all federal agency Freedom of Information Act regulations are outdated and noncompliant with existing laws and guidance, according to a new report.

Fifty out of 101 agencies have yet to update FOIA regulations to reflect 2007 congressional FOIA changes and 2009 administrative guidance, according to the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

The guidance changes include a ‘presumption of disclosure” when agencies are unsure of whether to release the information. They also added online journalists to the types of requestors eligible for fee exemptions.

Agencies were also told to proactively post the records of greatest interest online, remove unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles from the process and to waive processing charges if the agency fulfilled the request late.

Legislation being considered in Congress include provisions forcing agencies to update FOIA regulations. The administration has proposed the creation of core FOIA regulation and common practices across government.

"If and when this important FOIA reform occurs, open government watchdogs must be vigilant to ensure that the agencies' updated regulations are progressive, rather than regressive, and embrace best practices to ensure that more documents are released to requesters, more quickly" said Nate Jones, the Archive's FOIA coordinator.

The report recommends that any new updated FOIA regulations must:

■ Mandate all agencies be able to receive FOIA requests by email and post all responses and documents online.

■ Keep requesters informed of where in the process their FOIA is and streamline interagency cooperation when FOIAs fall into gray areas between agencies.

■ End the practice of using fees to discourage FOIA requests.

Agencies with out-of-date FOIA guidelines include among others the Agriculture, State and Commerce Departments, the Social Security Administration and the Postal Service. Compliant agencies include the Transportation and Interior Departments, the Environment Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulator Commission.

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