Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Post on President Obama's Open Government Dialog

From the National Academy of Public Administration's Open Government Dialog (ht FOIABlog):
To Make FOIA Work, Costs of Non-Disclosure Must Be Greater than Benefits
lajarvik a few seconds ago

Charge agencies daily substantial penalties for each day past statutory deadlines on FOIA request, this may be done by executive order, I believe. Charges should come from overall budget of agency, not FOIA department. Failure to answer FOIA requests by government officials should also be punished by individual reprimands and other administrative sanctions. These guidelines could be worked out by OPM across all agencies to be fair and reasonable--and to provide reasonable incentives for agencies to disclose whenever possible (rather than deny access, now the CYA default).

Why Is This Idea Important?

Right now, the only penalty in a FOIA case for non-compliance is the award of legal fees to the requester...the lawyer's time is worth money under statue, the agency's time is worth money (reasonable fees may be charged for search and copies), yet the requester's time is not worth money. But information, especially time-sensitive information, has value--and often the requester has a time value for the information. Information in 20 days may be worth more than information in 2 years, especially regarding matters of public interest that affect policy. If information may only be revealed after the issue is moot, especially in controversial matters, what was the point of FOIA in the first place? Any official doing a cost/benefit analysis right now must calculate that the risk of disclosure outweighs the risk of denial. That calculus must change for FOIA to become more effective.