Federal agencies have been slow to carry out a 2016 change in the Freedom of Information Act requiring them to proactively disclose certain records that would be releasable under that law, GAO has said.
That law required agencies to make public in an electronic format any records that have been released in response to a FOIA request and requested three or more times; final opinions in certain adjudicatory cases; statements of policy and interpretations which have been adopted by the agency but not published in the Federal Register; and administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect a member of the public, among others.
“GAO’s review of annual FOIA data found that 25 of 118 agencies reported zero proactive disclosures in fiscal years 2018 and 2019,” a report said.
It further said that the Justice Department’s office of information policy is not following up with those agencies and therefore “is not using an available tool that may strengthen its efforts to encourage agencies to make required disclosures.”
It said that of the three agencies it examined more closely—FAA, HUD and the VA’s Veterans Health Administration—only the VHA aligned its policies and procedures with the 2016 law’s requirements. It said that HUD regulations “address proactive disclosure, but its standard operating procedures have outdated sections that do not reflect statutory requirements” while the FAA has not documented processes to identify and post proactive disclosures.
The report follows a recent one in which the GAO found that agencies’ use of exemptions more than doubled from 2012 to 2019 while the number of FOIA requests processed increased by only 32 percent. At the same time, full denials of requests based on a statutory exemption increased by 10 percent and partial denials, when an agency provided the requester with some, but not all, of the information requested, increased by 76 percent, that report said.