By Bryan Rahija
In case you missed it amid all the other open gov hullabaloo, late last week POGO Director of Public Policy Angela Canterbury shared POGO's views on the state of government openness as a panelist on a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing. You can view footage of her testimony below (starts at the 35:59 mark).
The bottom line: although the Obama Administration has put an unprecedented amount of energy into opening up the federal government, a number of obstacles have impeded government openness overall.
These obstacles include:
- The proliferation of statutory exemptions (over 240 cited in the last decade) to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA);
- A frustrating inter-agency referral process that effectively sends FOIA requests into a bureaucratic black hole; and
- The reliance on contractors to decide what can and can't be released.
"It's time for FOIA to move fully into the digital age, and for the government to begin to make most FOIA requests a relic of the past," Canterbury said. "The guiding vision for the future should be making all public information available online in a timely manner."
Canterbury made several recommendations to help address these issues:
- Automate FOIA requests by putting them online in a sortable, trackable database;
- Scrutinize agencies' use of statutory exemptions and determine whether these exemptions are necessary;
- Examine contractors' role in processing FOIA requests and determine whether their current involvement is appropriate or not; and
- Work to enact the following two pieces of legislation: the Faster FOIA Act, introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), and the Transparency and Openness in Government Act, introduced by the Committee's Ranking Member, Elijah Cummings (D-MD).
Bryan Rahija edits POGO's blog.