Barely half of all federal agencies are meeting goals set by President Obama on his first day in office regarding Freedom of Information requests, according to a new study out today.


As The Federal Eye reports in Monday’s Post, of 90 federal agencies equipped to process FOIA requests, 49 have taken at least some steps to fulfill Obama’s goal to improve government transparency, according to the study by the National Security Archive at George Washington University and the Knight Foundation.

Researchers submitted FOIA requests to each agency seeking information on any changes made since Obama ordered the government to “adopt a presumption in favor” of FOIA requests on his first full day in office in January 2009.

This year’s results are significantly better than last year, when just 13 of the 90 agencies responded to the study’s authors. A subsequent memo from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House Counsel Bob Bauer reminding agencies that they needed to improve their FOIA work appears to have jumpstarted the progress, said National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton.

“But it shouldn’t take a White House memo to get agencies working on these issues,” he said in an interview.

The Obama administration sees things a little differently. For one, it counts 93 agencies processing FOIA requests, not 90. The Justice Department keeps tabs on FOIA requests each year, and reports that requests are down slightly — thanks to agencies posting more information online to preempt FOIA requests. The government’s overall FOIA backlog — a long complaint of transparency advocates — is also down 10.9 percent from the previous year.

White House officials and the report’s authors also credited agencies for granting more requests for internal documents and drafts of memos and other agency documents.

And officials pointed to two examples of how agencies are anticipating significant requests. In response to last year’s Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, the Mine Safety Health Administration posted all related information in one spot on its Web site. “Despite being overwhelmed with FOIA and media information requests, [MSHA] was able to provide the mining community and the general public with access to information related to this major accident,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

The Energy and Interior departments did something similar in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.Interior established an “electronic library” with all related documents, while Energy coordinated real-time data releases, including information on oil and gas collection data and video footage of the oil leaks.

Read the full report here and leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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