Congress scrutinizes E-FOIA compliance

Congress scrutinizes E-FOIA compliance

Rep. Steve Horn says he wants to grade agencies, as he did for their date code repairs last year.

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

Rep. Steve Horn is going back to the blackboard. This time the California Republican said he is pondering the use of report cards to assess agencies' compliance with the Electronic Freedom of Information Act of 1996.

Grading federal systems efforts is nothing new for Horn. From 1998 through January he periodically handed out grades rating agencies' year 2000 work. Most recently, he has suggested using a grading system to evaluate agencies' security practices.

No attention

Pleased with agencies' responses to the year 2000 urgings of his committee and other congressional groups, Horn keeps revisiting the use of grades for other sweeping systems issues. As to E-FOIA, Horn said, he cannot explain why compliance with the law's amendments to the original FOIA statute has drawn lackluster attention for the past four years.

'We do not know'that is the problem,' he said.

Horn, chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, is slated to hold a hearing next week on E-FOIA implementation.

Across Capitol Hill, the Senate is also drawing a bead on E-FOIA compliance.

'Public access to government information is crucial in order to hold the federal government accountable for its decisions,' said Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Thompson has asked the General Accounting Office to review E-FOIA compliance.

That's good news, said Marylea W. Byrd, assistant general counsel in the Housing and Urban Development Department's FOIA Division.

'I think the GAO [review] will bolster our position,' Byrd said. 'Despite the attorney general and president's remarks on open government, it goes against the grain of career bureaucrats because they are very possessive of their records.'

Byrd said HUD has allocated a significant amount of resources to its FOIA Division. Two attorneys, three records' management officials and 10 processors respond to FOIA requests. The only requests that the FOIA Division does not handle are those for HUD inspector general information.

'There have been significant resources dedicated to the FOIA office, but not necessarily to E-FOIA. I would like to have staff devoted to the E-FOIA,' Byrd said. 'Clearly it is a funding issue.'

Leslie A. Jensen agreed.

Jensen, a FOIA, Privacy Act and ethics specialist at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent federal agency, said:

'E-FOIA overall is a good thing. But it is the same old story. In my opinion, Congress sometimes mandates without giving funds. I think we've done well in E-FOIA given the constraints in funds.'

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