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Groups Say eFOI Law Being Ignored

June 14, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Many government agencies still don’t make their computerized records electronically accessible to the public, despite the 4-year-old Electronic Freedom of Information legislation, groups say.

A report from OMB Watch, a nonpartisan organization that monitors the work of the Office of Management and Budget, says the 1996 eFOI amendments were intended to bring the Freedom of Information Act into the electronic age.

But ``of the 64 agencies examined, seven have no useful eFOIA presence, 57 have varying degrees of compliance with the requirements and as of November 24, 1999, no agency had complied fully with the amendments,″ the report said.

However, officials from the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the OMB say government agencies are doing the best they can.

``We believe federal agencies are in substantial compliance with the eFOI,″ said Ethan Posner, the Justice Department’s deputy associate attorney general.

The debate came up Wednesday during a hearing in front of the House subcommittee on management, information and technology.

Patrice McDermott, OMB Watch’s information policy analyst, blamed a lack of funding and oversight from OMB and the Justice Department for the ``overwhelmingly inadequate″ compliance.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Ian Marquand of the Society of Professional Journalists, complained that many government agencies put information on the Internet in PDF (portable document format) which makes it hard to use the data. The agencies also use their Web sites to promote their agendas and flood them with useless data.

``Real data collected by the government that could be useful to reporters is being withheld,″ Dalglish said.

Marquand also complained about the amount of time it takes to get information, even on the Internet. Most of the FOI requests come from the public, not the press, he said. ``One important reason is time,″ he said.

Posner said the Justice Department answers ``many, if not most″ of its eFOI requests within the 20-day limit, however.

Joshua Gotbaum, executive associate director and controller at the Office of Management and Budget, singled out the Justice Department for praise. ``They have gone the extra mile in regard to FOI and eFOI,″ he said.

The government agencies promised to submit written answers to the complaints to the subcommittee later.

This was OMB Watch’s second investigation of eFOI law compliance. In 1998, it said it found widespread apathy and noncompliance. There has been improvement since, although the group said agencies still had a long way to go.


On the Net: House Subcommittee On Government Management, Information And Technology: http://www.house.gov/reform/gmit/

OMB Watch: http://www.capweb.net/omb

Department of Justice: http://www.doj.gov

Office of Management and Budget: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:http://www.rcfp.org

Society of Professional Journalists:http://spj.org

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