An Informed Public Assures That Federal Agencies Will Better Comply With Freedom of Information/Privacy Laws

LCD-80-8: Published: Oct 24, 1979. Publicly Released: Nov 8, 1979.

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GAO was requested to analyze data on litigation arising from laws governing disclosure of and access to public records. Congress intended that the open Government laws it enacted or strengthened would rely on citizen enforcement to ensure effective compliance. Data on the implications of the growing court case load, the extent to which agencies prevailed on the issues litigated in court, and the extent of the information provided by the Government to the requestors during the litigation were studied for a 3-year period before they were analyzed.

The analysis of case outcome revealed that much information held by agencies was released during litigation. The burden of a continuously increasing case load on agencies and the burden on the public of bringing suit to obtain information could be eased through better feedback to both sides concerned with the results of previous agency decisions. Better executive direction and monitoring of agencies' performance and better records and reports on denials and resulting litigation could minimize future problems leading to litigation. GAO believed that better oversight and executive direction could achieve improved implementation of these laws without substantially adding organizational structures and staffing. It was concluded that these laws generally are effective tools for meeting the congressional policy on openness in Government.

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