About

This is a project of OpenTheGovernment.org to compare the experience of requesting government records at several federal agencies.

Three of our requests were made using FOIAonline, a recently launched website that allows users who sign up for an account to easily make and track Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests at participating agencies. (Learn more about FOIAonline and which agencies are participating by checking out our infographic.). Those requests were sent to:

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Merit Service Protection Board (MSPB)
  • Department of Commerce.

We also made FOIA requests using either the agency’s online submission form or via email to the 14 agencies that received the highest number of requests in 2011. Those agencies are:

    • Department of Homeland Security
    • Department of Defense
    • Department of Health and Human Services
    • Department of Justice
    • Department of Veterans Affairs
    • Department of Agriculture
    • Department of Labor
    • Department of Treasury
    • Department of State
    • Department of Transportation
    • Social Security Administration
    • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
    • Securities Exchange Commission
    • National Archives and Records Administration – you can request operational records from NARA using FOIAOnline; FOIAOnline cannot yet be used for the permanent, “archival” records that are preserved in the National Archives, including Presidential records at the Libraries*

We started our project by selecting a type of record we reasonably expect all agencies to have in their possession. We chose to request copies of the report agencies were required to submit to the Archivist and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) pursuant to the Presidential Memorandum on Records Management. We know that a lot of the material in these reports is likely to be exempt under FOIA because it is pre-decisional information (exemption 5), but we thought there might be some interesting differences in how agencies used this discretionary exemption.

We will update this blog to describe our experience using each agency’s FOIA system, and share our results.

*NARA clarified what records are available using FOIAOnline here

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