So, from the original three requests I made using FOIAonline, I now have one envelope with a paper copy of a report, one electronic version version of a report available online, and two emails with electronic versions of reports attached. My FOIAOnline account shows one closed request and two still “on assignment.” Confused yet? Me too.
As I wrote in early January, the EPA sent me copy of the requested records via email. The request was still “open” in my FOIAOnline account, however, and I asked the FOIA processor if the EPA would be making the files available for other users through the system. Well, I still haven’t gotten a response to my question, but today I did receive an email from a different FOIA processor with another version of the requested report attached.
FOIAonline is a very promising project. It could make it considerably easier for users to make and track FOIA requests without having deep and arcane knowledge about what components of the federal government are likely to have particular records. It could streamline the consult and referral processes– currently major sources of delay– and save the government an estimated $200 million over the next five years with government-wide adoption. By making all released records available online, requesters could have easy access to information without having to file a FOIA request, and the government could save money on processing documents multiple times.
FOIAonline’s developers and champions have been very open to public feedback about how to improve the service and have held multiple briefings to show the public how to use the system. They might need to do more to show their employees how to use it as well.