Information Management:

Government Field Offices Should Better Implement the Freedom of Information Act

LCD-78-120: Published: Jul 25, 1978. Publicly Released: Aug 7, 1978.


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The Freedom of Information Act provides the basic authority and procedure for the public to obtain documents and records from the Federal Government.

The act has given citizens access to records not previously available. Although it is being used mostly by businesses and law firms for purposes not contemplated by the Congress, any attempt to regulate such use could also restrict use by the public. Most agencies are making a reasonable effort to meet the act's time requirements for responding to requests, but a few agencies have not responded within the 10-day time limit. Agencies should evaluate each step of the process and consider establishing time limits for each step. Agencies are not abusing fee provisions of the act. On the contrary, there is a reluctance to assess fees, and clarification is needed in this area. One problem area is in applying exemptions from disclosure listed in the act. Agencies differed in denials of requests and in determining what constituted a denial. Additional training on the act is needed in some agency field offices with variations among agencies in amount and type of training needed. Improvement is also needed in support by agency management of programs for providing public access to government records and in the quality of agency reports on implementation of the act.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: The Attorney General should have the heads of federal departments and agencies: review regulations pertaining to the act to make sure that they are clear, conform to the spirit of the act, and do not contain unwarranted restrictive provisions; advise personnel to return fees collected under the act to the Treasury and to exercise better control over fee assessment, collection, and processing; and emphasize to responsible officials the need to review the act's implementation at least annually. He should: clarify what constitutes an adverse determination or denial under the act; emphasize to heads of departments and agencies the need to evaluate the training provided to field office staffs, determine needs for additional training, and make sure that it is provided; and evaluate the adequacy of staff resources allocated to the Department of Justice's oversight role. The Congress should consider amending the act to clarify the Department's oversight role. (HTW)

    Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

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