18F, DOJ Working on Centralized FOIA Request Site
Fulfilling the requirements of the bipartisan FOIA Improvement Act signed into law under President Barack Obama, the 18F digital team at the General Services Administration has begun working with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Information Policy to develop recommendations for DOJ, working toward ultimately creating a single, one-stop-shop for FOIA requests.
“In short, we found that while a request platform alone cannot address the most significant challenges with FOIA, a single collection point for requests represents a unique opportunity to make significant improvements to the FOIA requesting system overall,” according to members of 18F. “Given limited time and resources, we recommend addressing the public’s lack of confidence and understanding of the FOIA system in the short-term by improving the usability of the request submission process and better preparing requesters for what to expect from the long and complicated process of fulfilling requests.”
Currently, 119 agencies fall under the FOIA Improvement Act. According to FCW, the system “will be interoperable with agencies' current systems and allow the public to request documents from any agency covered by FOIA on a single website.”
Though a centralized portal is anticipated to make the FOIA request process easier, 18F’s preliminary report, based on user interviews conducted in recent months, notes that a “one-size-fits-all” solution is likely to be difficult, given the varying rates of FOIA requests at different agencies, as well as the way the requests are handled. Thus, the 18F team noted it must first “develop a common lexicon” to ensure the disparate systems are able to operate with the new, centralized site.
18F also made more practical recommendations, recognizing that “requesters want to know how to reach out to a human being if they have more questions” and want to understand “how time estimates are created” as they navigate the process.
Development of the National FOIA Portal is open-source and accessible to the public via GitHub. 18F is the same team behind a number of major digital government initiatives in recent years, including implementation of the DATA Act, and creation of sites such as Login.gov and Cloud.gov.
The team released a mockup of the prototype site’s status page. View Page Prototype>
Posted in General News