Government Can't Keep Up With Information Requests

The Obama administration couldn't keep pace with the increasing number of people asking for copies of government documents, emails, photographs and more under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of the latest federal data by The Associated Press.

Federal agencies did better last year trying to fulfill requests, but still fell further behind with backlogs, due mostly to surges in immigration records requested from the Homeland Security Department. It released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought - and outright rejected other requests - at about the same rate as the previous two years. The AP analyzed figures over the last three years from 37 of the largest federal departments and agencies.

There was progress: The government responded to more requests than ever in 2011 - more than 576,000 - a 5 percent increase from the year before. Offices relied less frequently on legal provisions that allow them to keep records secret, especially emails and documents describing how federal officials make important decisions.

The government's responsiveness under the Freedom of Information Act is widely viewed as a barometer of how transparent federal offices are. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can compel the government to turn over copies of federal records for zero or little cost. Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas.

Across the 37 agencies, the government turned over all or parts of the records people sought in about 65 percent of requests that it considered, a minor improvement over last year.

The White House touted its success under its own analysis of how it performed. It said more employees worked to turn over files that people asked for, and it increased the budget for such efforts by $19 million last year.

Even as the Obama administration increased its efforts, people submitted 587,815 requests for information in fiscal 2011 at the 37 agencies reviewed by the AP - about an 8 percent increase over the previous year's figure of 546,445.


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