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Moving toward a one-stop shop for FOIA requests

The federal government is getting a centralized site to handle Freedom of Information Act requests. The Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy will work with the 18F digital services shop to create a one-stop for all 119 agencies covered by the transparency law.

The portal will be interoperable with agencies' current systems and will allow the public to request documents from any agency covered by FOIA on a single website.

The Office of Information Policy, in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget, has secured $1.3 million to stand up the site, OIP Director Melanie Pustay said.

"Our initial funding is to help us with the development," she said. "We're definitely going to need more funding for maintenance and operation … so we still have additional steps to take to figure out the best sources of funding going forward."

Pustay said that she envisions the portal improving the FOIA process in ways beyond simply hosting a menu of different agencies and handling requests.

"Making a request is really one of the easier parts of FOIA," she said. Given that there are overlaps in agency missions and each agency's request system is different, "having features that could help requesters identify where to go could be really helpful to the FOIA process."

She also said that the site "ideally" will make it easier for users to locate and access information that has already been released by agencies, adding that putting documents "up on the website is one step, but then making sure that they're really easily locatable by the public is what will be the most useful."

Because the FOIA process can be frustrating for both requesters and agencies, Pustay said that, in addition to being in "daily contact" with 18F, her office will consult with requesters and agencies directly to incorporate their feedback throughout the iterative process.

She said that even if agencies' reliance on different systems poses a challenge to achieving interoperability, "we don't want any agency to lose efficiency," and added the site "will all be built in the open … to make this a reality."

The Justice Department website asks agencies and requesters interested in participating in the site's build out to notify its Office of Information Policy by April 28.

Pustay said the "ballpark" timeline is to have an operational version of the portal "up and running this calendar year," according to the schedule set out in the 2016 law.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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