GETTING INFORMATION from the D.C. government has always been hit or miss. The city’s various agencies have been pretty much left to their own devices, and some are more responsive than others. So a new effort by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) aimed at making it easier for the public and the media to get government records is a needed step in the right direction.
Administration officials last month unveiled an online system for submitting and processing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The system was designed at a cost of $274,337 by FOIAXpress, a vendor whose clients include the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Defense Department’s inspector general. More than 50 city agencies will participate in the centralized system at the start, with plans for more to be added in the next fiscal year.
“Everyone wins when we make it easier for the public to understand the workings of the District government,” said Mr. Gray in a statement. We couldn’t agree more about the importance of transparency and accountability in government. As a media organization that is regularly in search of information, we hope the online system will make for more timely processing of FOIA requests, which has been an issue for the District government.
Another advantage of the centralized process is that it will provide oversight of who is in and out of compliance with FOIA laws. “Every agency doing their own thing made it singularly impossible to know who was doing a good job and who wasn’t,” said outgoing spokesman Pedro Ribeiro, who championed the effort within the administration.
It’s important that whoever succeeds Mr. Gray follows his good example. The D.C. Council, a separate branch of government not covered by the administration’s new portal, also should follow through on its plans to improve the public’s access to its records.