The FOIA and Technology Part Five: A look to the future


The future of the FOIA and FOIA processing will continually change as the government and society adopt the latest advancements in technology.   In the coming decade, great strides in transparency and open government will be made to alleviate the burden placed on agencies.

It is no secret that the current administration, as well as any first amendment and open government groups, would like to see transparency increase.  The Department of Justice has pressured agencies to be more compliant with proactive disclosure and discretionary release, but has not created a structured and standardized initiative.  Agencies remain free to meet the demands of increased transparency through their own standards.  Future technologies must support the creation and implementation of standardized approaches to information release.

The use of public portals and advancement of FOIA reading rooms are two promising areas that may achieve this goal. Advanced portal technology is currently available in many modern FOIA reading rooms. Agencies have large amounts of records that should be placed into an accessible reading room, yet are unable to publish them due to resource restrictions or limitations in technology. In the future, these tools will expand to further assist the public’s access to government records, supplementing current technologies.

In addition to FOIA portals and reading rooms a new approach to FOIAable records is necessary.  Currently, most information is released to the public only in response to requests. In order to streamline the FOIA process, the burden of reviewing documents should be reduced and backlogs decreased. Many requested documents can be anticipated and should be reviewed, redacted, and published in the process of their production. For example, awarded grants and contracts should be automatically published in reading rooms and not need to be requested. This action would simplify the process of review, allowing subject matter experts to make the initial determination on the release of information. This process could also be assisted by the government adopting active FOIA ready forms.  These forms are those that will automatically redact information that is known to be exempt; this process would be more secure, while also streamlining the FOIA process.  FOIA ready forms would also standardize many of the government’s grants and contracts processes and ultimately make it easier for citizenry.

The future of FOIA is surely to be shaped by technology and many of the tools used today in the FOIA community will continue to be refined to increase the productivity and efficiency of the FOIA system. FOIA is a cumbersome process that requires those involved in it to pursue new and innovative ideas to increase transparency and open government.