FOIA.gov Provides Freedom of Information Act Data and Statistics

It’s the end of Sunshine Week, so maybe it’s time to find your FBI file (or your grandpa’s).

The Administration’s policy on openness is quite broad:

“President Obama and Attorney General Holder have directed agencies to apply a presumption of openness in responding to FOIA requests. The Attorney General specifically called on agencies not to withhold information just because it technically falls within an exemption and he also encouraged agencies to make discretionary releases of records. The Attorney General emphasized that the President has called on agencies to work in a spirit of cooperation with FOIA requesters. The Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice oversees agency compliance with these directives and encourages all agencies to fully comply with both the letter and the spirit of the FOIA. President Obama has pledged to make this the most transparent Administration in history.”

In that spirit, the government launched a new FOIA.gov website this week, which is basically a Freedom of Information Act Portal Site. The site itself looks nice. It’s user friendly, thematically similar to some of the newer .gov sites, with a clean interface, tabs and large fonts. It has video segments explaining the FOIA process, noteworthy documents released by this process, and reports.

The reports are the most interesting feature. Agencies have mandatory disclosure requirements for FOIA requests that is collected in an annual report. That information is housed on the site, and users can create reports on it. You can create a basic report, or an advanced report, depending on the level of detail you need.

To test out the reporting feature, I tried to find out how many TSA FOIA requests were granted in 2010.

First I did a basic report:

Looks like 716 total requested.

Then I did an advanced report, which was a little awkward. I think I’m just not used to dealing with statistics–I don’t really understand why I need to give a number greater or less than–but anyway here’s the query:

And the results came up as thus:

Looks like most requests were released in part: only 78 were granted in full.

So, I tried to find out why. From the Query, I chose different “attributes.” Here’s what I got:

Improper FOIA Request: 9
Not Reasonable: 14
Not Agency Record: 21
Duplicate Request: 19
No Record: 80
Request Withdrawn: 85

There’s a nice feature to compare the reports to those that you’ve run previously, as well. I’m not sure how useful all of this is, but I like the interface and I’m glad that it’s user friendly. Anything we can do to encourage citizen participation and oversight of government activities is good in my book.

For more resources on FOIA, check out  Public Records and Government Transparency on Justia’s Virtual Chase.