FOIA Facts: GAO Issues New FOIA Report

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report entitled Implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. The report describes the FOIA process at federal agencies as well as how the agencies are implementing the act.

The report breaks no new ground, as it is compiled from previous GAO reports and annual FOIA reports submitted by 25 major agencies who receive 97 percent of all FOIA requests. The report finds that the number of FOIA requests has risen 71 percent since 2002, and that FOIA backlogs have increased government wide by 14 percent for that same time period.

An interesting aspect of the study is the breakdown of the responsibilities given to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in overseeing implementation of the FOIA. These two agencies issue guidance on FOIA matters, either independently - DOJ is in charge of FOIA policy issue, OMB has jurisdiction on fee matters - or jointly (guidance on annual reports).

The study also includes a breakdown of the requests each agency receives and their dispositions (full grant, partial grant or denial). Additionally, the processing rates and backlogs at each agency are discussed.

Unfortunately, the report offers no observations or suggestions on how agencies can more effectively deal with the four million FOIA requests the government receives each year. Nor is there any commentary on how Congress could change the law to assist the agencies in responding to FOIA requests, or where Congress could earmark funds to help agencies meet their increasing FOIA workloads. Until these issues are addressed, FOIA implementation will, at best, remain as it is characterized in this study.

[Editor's note: for additional commentary on this issue, please see Mark Tapscott's May 12 posting,  Justice Official Rationalizes FOIA Delays, Says They Are 'Intractable' for Some Agencies]