Federal agencies struggle to respond to public records requests

McClatchy Washington BureauMarch 10, 2014 

Some federal agencies are struggling to respond to public records requests made through the Freedom of Information Act, according to a new report released Monday.

The Center for Effective Government, a government watchdog organization, graded 15 key agencies in its report Making the Grade: Access to Information Scorecard 2014. Seven agencies received an “F.” No agency earned an “A.”

The Social Security Administration received the top grade, earning a “B” in part based on processing a large number of requests quickly. The State Department ranked at the bottom, responding to just one percent of requests within 20 days, and denying 44 percent of all requests.

“The fact that no agency achieved a top grade across all three areas illustrates the difficulty agencies are having with implementation overall,” said Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the Center for Effective Government. “Agencies face a variety of challenges, depending on their request loads, the kind of information they manage, and the manpower they have available to do the job. But there is clearly much room for improvement.”

An analysis of the 15 agencies shows that about 90 percent of all requests in fiscal 2012 indicated a lack of consistency. They were measured on processing requests for information; establishing rules for information access; and creating user-friendly websites.

In each of the areas, at least one agency earned an A. But the highest overall grade was only a B.

“Many agencies could easily raise their grades by making some commonsense adjustments in the way they process requests, by making disclosure a priority for agency staff, and by improving search features and user interfaces on the disclosure sections of their websites,” said Sean Moulton, director of open government policy and one of the authors of the report.

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