Records at Your Fingertips: New App May Make FOIA Requests a Breeze

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are notoriously laborious and time-consuming, but the federal government's own (and fairly new) IT development department, 18F, is introducing an application to streamline the process.

E-Pluribus Unum has the scoop: 

18F already has a prototype...online that shows what a consolidated request submission hub could look like and plans to iterate upon it.  This is a perfect example of “lean government,” or the application of lean startup principles and agile development to the creation of citizen-centric services in the public sector. 

The project is still in the "alpha" exploratory phase, so 18F is asking users for input to make the app more workable and user-friendly. A functional – and easy to use – request submission form would be a huge step forward in combatting what has in recent years been an increasingly more opaque federal government. 

18F has now committed to creating software that improvse how requests made under the Freedom of Information Act can be improved through technology. Specifically that it will develop tools that “improve the FOIA request submission experience,” “create a scalable infrastructure for making requests to federal agencies” and “make it easier for requesters to find records and other information that have already been made available online.”

A monumental part of the process is herding the cats that are the various branches of the federal government. Connecting the dots is a huge priority, and a crucial component for fulfulling the requests in a timely manner.

According to 18F’s blog post, this work is supported and overseen by a “FOIA Task Force,” consisting of representatives from the Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The task force will need to focus upon more than technology: while poor software has hindered requests and publishing, that’s not the primary issue that’s hindering the speed or quality of responses.

It's nice to see the federal government joining the rest of us in the 21st century.

Photo credit: E Pluribus Unum website

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