Survey: Only half of federal agencies have better FOI procedures

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

A report from the Knight Open Government Survey found that, despite some progress, federal agencies are only halfway there when it comes to delivering on the president’s day-one promise to improve FOIA procedures and openness across the board.

There is some cause for optimism there, as last year that number was about 14 percent. For the curious, Knight also provided a full PDF of how the 90 different agencies in the survey stacked up.

But before I highlight a few health-related entries, I can’t resist pointing out the survey’s methodology section, which will help explain how the results are organized.

The 2011 Knight Open Government Survey team filed FOIA requests with the 90 federal agencies that have chief FOIA officers, asking for copies of concrete changes in their FOIA regulations, manuals, training materials, or processing guidance as a result of the “Day One” Obama memorandum, and the March 2010 White House memorandum from then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House Counsel Bob Bauer. The Emanuel-Bauer memo told agencies to 1) update all FOIA material, and 2) assess whether FOIA resources were adequate.

The key takeaway then is that this is a measure of administrative regulation, and not one focused on responsiveness to actual FOIA requests beyond the one used to create each data point. With that in mind, here’s how our friends at health-related agencies stack up.

Concrete action on two steps

  • DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
  • OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY & HEALTH REVIEW COMM.
  • DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Concrete action on one step

  • OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY
  • DEFENSE NUCLEAR FACILITIES SAFETY BOARD
  • FEDERAL MINE SAFETY & HEALTH REVIEW COMM.
  • NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

No final response to FOIA request

  • COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
  • PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE

No acknowledgement of FOIA request

  • CHEMICAL SAFETY & HAZARD INVESTIGATION BRD.

Freedom of Information Audits and Government Transparency from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

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