Update on Previous GAO Findings, Observations, and Recommendations Concerning the Freedom of Information Act

LCD-80-103: Published: Aug 13, 1980. Publicly Released: Aug 22, 1980.

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Several questions were asked regarding selected previous GAO findings concerning the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Previously, GAO stated that the reasons citizens were not exercisng their FOIA rights as had been expected may have been due to disinterest or a lack of awareness of the Act and how it can be used. While the Act was generally effective for meeting congressional policy on openess in Government, it was concluded that better oversight and executive direction could improve implementation.

GAO had no knowledge of current information which would indicate that the public has become more aware of its FOIA rights. No overall determination has been made as to whether agenies have become more concerned about courtesy to requestors. Further work had not been done which would enable GAO to update its earlier assessment of the full costs of implementing the law. Neither the Department of Justice nor the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued guidance to agencies for use in accounting for and reporting annual FOIA implementation costs. However, GAO believed that OMB should be given statutory responsiblity for establishing guidelines for FOIA implementation cost accounting and the use of personnel for setting fees. Although it had been recommended that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) be given 40 working days to respond to an initial FOIA request, GAO did not favor extending this to any other agencies. A joint study with the Congressional Research Service of the FOIA request and appeal processing would be useful, and if requested, GAO would perform such a study.

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