Today I finally received our long-awaited response from the Department of Commerce. Unfortunately, though, the records came directly to us through the US mail — not through FOIAonline. And, according to our FOIAonline account, the request is still “On Assignment.”
It is notable that of the three requests we made to agencies using FOIAonline where we have received responses, the system has not worked as expected once — MSPB mailed us the report and then made the records available online a few weeks later and the EPA…well, the EPA emailed us the responsive records a couple of times before finally making the record available online. We have also had a hard time finding any of the documents that have been released to us using FOIAonline’s search function. Clearly, agencies need to invest more into training employees on how to use the system.
When the FOIAonline system works, there are clear benefits for requesters. A few weeks ago we used the system to make a new request to NARA — since our information was already stored in our account, all we had to do was describe the records we were requesting and click a few buttons. We were immediately given a tracking number for the request and a few weeks later we got an email letting us know that the records were available through our account. We logged on and downloaded the records without a problem. We also did a quick search to see if the records would be easy for anyone else interested in a similar topic to find: they were (if you have any interest in knowing what NARA’s human resources office did to implement the new FOIA job series, 0306, the records are awaiting you).
Speaking of making records available, we scanned in a copy of Commerce’s response and report. Hopefully, Commerce updates our account with better copies soon.