EDGI advocates for public access to records as FOIAonline is shuttered

On September 30, 2023 FOIAonline—the government-wide online portal for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and case management—will be decommissioned. For more than a decade, FOIAonline has served as a critical transparency tool through which the public could not only file requests and receive records, but also browse and search through records released to others and by multiple agencies. Starting October 1st, FOIAonline will  be taken down, and the 1.8 million public records it holds will be taken down with it.

To replace FOIAonline, each agency will host its own FOIA case management system. It is still unclear what requirements these systems need to meet, and whether the strides in transparency and public access made through FOIAonline will be preserved in agencies’ new systems.

EDGI is concerned about what this move may indicate about the federal government’s commitment to transparency, and is urging the government-wide FOIA leadership bodies to leverage this transition as an opportunity to not only maintain, but to enhance and expand the public accessibility of federal records.

Read EDGI’s full comments to the Chief FOIA Officers Council here, and to the FOIA Advisory Committee here.

Key recommendations to these bodies and agency FOIA offices include: 

  1. Expand public access to completed FOIA requests by publicly posting 100% of records released. 
  2. Format records files to facilitate use by the requester community. Deliver records in smaller and logically delineated files, provide legends to files included, and create browser-based viewing options. 
  3. Enhance search functionality.  In addition to posting records for public browsing, include advanced search functionality that can accurately search multiple relevant criteria, and ultimately include cross-agency searching. 

Providing the public with access to public records as well as more effective routes of finding and utilizing the information these records contain is a win for transparency, informed citizenry, and democracy, as well as for government efficiency and integrity.