HHS releases FOIA report in less-than-ideal format

Bob Garfield of WNYC’s “On the Media” talked to John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, about last week’s announcement of the Open Government Directive.

Wonderlich says the initiative “is the administration making a real commitment to systemic change within the government.” He also brings up the issue of how information will be made available, pointing out that spreadsheets and datasets are more valuable than paper records to journalists as well as other businesses.

He points out that government agencies report each year on how well they are responding to Freedom of Information Act requests and says that last week – for the first time – the Department of Justice released that information for 2008 in spreadsheets.

Unfortunately that’s not quite the case. The reports from most nearly all of the departments are in spreadsheet form but a few, including the report from the Department of Health and Human Services, are in other formats that may be more difficult to analyze.

There is, however, a bit of good news. The 2007 report from HHS showed that there were more than 28,000 pending requests. The agency has made an effort to reduce its backlog and the 2008 tally is just more than 19,000.

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