Agencies plan for governmentwide FOIA portal
Three federal agencies are creating a common web portal for Freedom of Information Act requests with the intention of launching it in fall 2012.
The $1.3 million portal, being built mostly with funds from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Commerce Department, with some participation from NARA, could save the federal government $200 million over 5 years were it to be adopted governmentwide, according to a NARA blog post.
In a Jan. 10 interview, NARA Office of Government Information Services Director Miriam Nisbet said the idea for the project originated with the Environmental Protection Agency, which about a year ago saw the possibility of using its already-developed Regulations.gov platform as a FOIA request portal.
At the front end, requestors will be able to create user accounts through which they receive regular updates of their request's status, such as its receipt and assignment of a tracking number, whether a document search has begun and whether its review for releasability has begun, said Kirsten Mitchell, an OGIS FOIA facilitator. Transfer of the requested documents could also happen via the portal, she added.
At the back end, adoption of the portal by multiple agencies should help speed up processing of FOIA requests that encompass documents controlled by multiple agencies, Nisbet said. Interagency referrals still often occur via paper, she added.
Other agencies, including the Veterans Affairs Department, have expressed interest in joining the project and the EPA will host a meeting of senior FOIA professionals on Jan. 11 to drum up interest. On Jan. 12, EPA will host a meeting open to more government employees to solicit feedback on how the portal should function.
Requirements are still being drafted, Nisbet said, and one of the matters under examination is how the portal could hook into existing agency FOIA management systems.
"We're really excited about it," Nisbet said. "It really does feel like something that is just a really good idea whose time has come."
- read the NARA blog post on the project