Freedom of Information Act Requests Gets Easier

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Obtaining public information from the federal government just got a lot easier thanks to a new federal website launched on October 1, 2012.

The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides the public a way to request information from federal agencies. However, each agency has its own independent records system and its own procedures for handling requests for information. Therefore, each agency must be contacted separately, and when necessary, records are transferred manually between agencies causing lengthy delays for the requestor and additional work for the agencies. For someone requesting information, it is hard to know the proper procedure for obtaining public information or how to track the status of a request.

The newly launched website “FOIAonline” replaces the existing individual systems of five federal agencies. The new shared system allows these five agencies to share information online creating a more efficient way of handling requests. The five agencies include the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the National Archives and Records Administration.

The new system is comprised of three basic features. The first feature is the “Search FOIA Requests” where you can search prior requests by keyword, phrase, tracking number, or fiscal year. This feature provides a way to see whether similar information has been requested. Once information is released, it will now be available online for others to view thus avoiding the need to initiate a new request. Another feature is the “Make a FOIA Request” where you can choose an agency, describe your information request, and either agree to pay the required fee or request a fee waiver. The last feature is the “Reports” feature which provides access to the status of your request and other requests, prior appeals, processing time for requests, backlogs of requests for information, and other similar types of reports. The reports can be sorted by agency and time period.

This system is seen as a pilot project which will be monitored by the developers in order to identify issues and to make any necessary improvements.   The new system not only handles all requests online but streamlines the process, stores all information in a central repository, provides full text search, reduces the amount of paperwork, and provides a way to monitor government responsiveness. Eventually, you will be able to request information through a single system covering all federal agencies thus providing a great tool for both requestors and agencies.

There are links to many types of public information such as laws and codes, court records, land records, and more on our “Free Public Records Search Directory.” Our “United States Free Public Records Directory” includes links to a variety of federal websites such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s interactive map, Housing and Urban Development’s property search, the Superfund site finder, and many other helpful websites.

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