I got two more emails about my request to the EPA this morning. The first was another email from the FOIA processor with the requested record attached (the third). Hopefully that is the last time the EPA sends me a copy of the report, though, since the second email was to let me know that my request was now closed and the record was available through my FOIAonline account.
Now that the report is, theoretically, online and available for any member of the public who is interested in records management issues (don’t laugh…there are people who are interested, I promise), I decided to see how easy it would be to find the report.
I logged out of my account and tried a search of records released by the EPA using the search terms “Records Management” and “report.”
Which yielded 2,300 results
I tried adding in other terms (including my name, a trick I used to find the report released to me by the Merit Service Protection Board) to narrow my results and was able to bring the number of results down to a more manageable 42. My requested report was not among the results, however.
I went back to the larger pool of results and decided to take advantage of the option to download the results as an Excel file.
It was much easier to sort through the Excel version of the results. Unfortunately, however, my requested report was not included in the sheet.
As a final resort, I tried searching the tracking number.
Still no luck. It appears I can access the record online at this point, but it is not yet available for the public.
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.
Yesterday afternoon I was surprised to get an email from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with a copy of the requested report attached. The surprising part was not the release of the report itself, it is that it seemed to occur completely separate from the FOIAOnline system.
Earlier in the afternoon, I’d logged in to my FOIAOnline account to see if there were any updates on my outstanding requests and nothing had changed from what I saw before the holidays: my two outstanding requests were months past their expected due dates and still listed as “On Assignment.” I searched for an option to correspond with the agencies for some sort of an update, but could not find an option to do so within the system or any other kind of phone number or email address I could use.
Since the report had appeared in my inbox, I decided to log back into my FOIAOnline account this morning to see if anything had changed. My request with the EPA was still listed as “On Assignment,” but there was a small icon next to the request indicating that I had unread correspondence. I clicked through and saw that this had been added to the record:
I now had the option to correspond with the agency, but the system was still not showing the records that had already been released. As you can see above, I am asking when the records will be available through the system.
We want the records to be available via FOIAOnline because, as we’ve written about before, one of the supposed benefits of the FOIAOnline system is that once an agency using FOIAOnline releases a record, it can easily make it available to the public. This is intended to help cut down on the number of duplicate requests because users are encouraged to search for previously released records before filing their request.
For the time being, I’ve made the released record available here. Hopefully the EPA will make it more broadly available soon.
EPA Report on Managing Government Records
This morning we logged into our FOIAOnline account to check on the status of our outstanding FOIA requests at the Department of Commerce and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Unfortunately, despite the fact we are about two weeks past the expected delivery date, there have been no updates on either request.
We did notice something new about our completed request at the Merit Service Protection Board (MSPB), however. As you may remember, we were concerned that MSPB had mailed us the final report, meaning the electronic version would probably not be made publicly available through FOIAOnline. When we logged into the account today, an electronic version of the MSPB’s response and the requested report were available for download.
Be sure to check out our next post to see what happens when we try to use FOIAOnline’s search system to fund the released record…
One of the great new tools included on FOIAOnline is a reports generator that allows users to slice and dice FOIA processing data from participating agencies by different time frames. Users can run reports on data beginning on October 1 (before the October 9 launch of FOIAOnline) to the current date. We decided to use the data to see if there is any evidence yet that FOIAOnline is either a) making it easier for the public to make requests, or b) participating agencies seem to be processing requests any faster since joining the system.
We did this by running reports for the one week period before the launch of FOIAOnline (October 1 – 7) and each of the three following one week periods through October 28 (October 8 – 14, October 15 – 21, and October 22 – 28). We used the number of requests received as an indicator of the relative easiness of making requests (on the theory that more people will make requests if it is easier to do so). The number of requests processed per week was used to gauge if the agency is processing requests any more efficiently.
Below we take a look at statistics for the Department of Commerce, and the Environmental Protection Agency:
The number of requests received dipped the first week Commerce began using the FOIAOnline system, but there is not a clear trend towards the public sending more or less FOIA requests to Commerce. Commerce seems to be processing requests more efficiently since the launch of the website.
At EPA, both the number of requests received since the launch of FOIAOnline, and the number of requests processed per week have dropped. As more data becomes available, we will be able to judge is this is a troubling trend.
On 10/15/12 we logged into FOIAonline to check the status of our requests at the EPA, the Merit Service Protection Board, and Commerce. EPA and the MSPB have classified our request as “simple” and MSPB expects we will have a response to our request by 11/2/12. Here is what we saw:
On 10/5/2012 we received an email from the FOIAonline system notifying us that our request for a fee waiver for request #EPA-HQ-2013-000162 was determined to be not applicable as the request was not billable.