Guest blog post by Joey Hutcherson, Deputy Director of Open Government
Today, as part of administration-wide efforts to ensure public trust through transparent, efficient, and effective government, the Department of Commerce launched a new online tool through which the public can submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The interface, FOIAonline, will enable the public and departmental FOIA professionals to access an automated online tracking and records management system for the first time. Additionally, the system will eliminate the need for individuals to search for contact information when submitting requests for multiple agencies, thereby speeding up the FOIA process.
FOIAonline will also automatically provide tracking numbers for requests much like consumers use to track packages online. The requester can then view the status of the request online, eliminating the wait time for manual replies from agencies. Further, FOIAOnline will enable Commerce to publish FOIA documents in electronic format with the request, which will decrease the duplicate requests workload while allowing the public access to more information. This availability of additional information will allow greater detail for researchers, journalists and the public.
Previously, consultations and referrals between agencies required sending around those documents, which took time and energy. Now when an agency identifies records as responsive to a FOIA request, it can add them to the FOIAonline system and consultation will occur within the system for participating agencies, speeding up response times for requesters. Released documents can be uploaded to FOIAonline and the requester will be notified of their availability immediately. This new feature will improve transparency by making released documents fully available to the general public, rather than delivered solely to the requester. It also means researchers and journalists will be able to find information more quickly and agencies won’t have to process multiple requests for the same materials repeatedly.
FOIAonline is a big upgrade for agencies because it will supply the participating agencies with a fully compliant records management system, the ability to collect metrics throughout the workflow process, and will generate full Department of Justice Annual Reports automatically. Five federal agencies have now partnered to pilot FOIAonline along with the Department of Commerce: the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Archives and Records Administration, the Treasury Department; the Federal Labor Relations Board; and the Merit Systems Protection Board. More information on the Department of Commerce and its move to FOIAonline can be read in the whitepaper found at http://open.commerce.gov/government-wide-freedom-information-act-foia-workflow-utilizing-centralized-repository#attachments.