Feds Launch Online Freedom of Information Site — Inspiration for New York.


Last week, the federal government launched FOIAonline, its new one-stop spot to access, track, and query Freedom of Information Act requests. The $1.7 million website and document processing tool allows visitors to request information and track requests from half a dozen federal agencies.  The new tool was developed jointly by the EPA, Department of Commerce and National Archives. Project managers estimate FOIAonline could save the federal government $40 million a year in FOIL processing costs when it is adopted by all federal agencies. FOIAonline can also allow viewers to see the FOIA requests made by others.

So, where is New York State’s “FOILonline” tool? New York has about 10,000 government agencies and entities subject to state Freedom of Information Law. Many still process FOIL requests by hand, none publish public records of how many FOIL requests they process, how long their response time is, and how much responding costs.

In our Executive Orders report (page 16), Reinvent Albany called on Governor Cuomo to put FOIL requests and responses online, and make use FOIL to drive the pro-active release of information. With their new FOIonline tool, the feds have taken an important step towards increasing government transparency and accountability, while saving  tax-payer funds. Back here in New York, where the state processes tens of thousand FOIL requests a year, and localities even more,  we’d like to see Governor Cuomo become the first governor to introduce an all online FOIL system like FOIAonline.  But better than the federal system, New York’s FOIL tool could include counties, cities, towns and other localities. New York’s Freedom of Information Law is a state mandate. New York’s online FOIL system would be the best kind of mandate relief — it would improve a public service, increase transparency, and save money. What’s not to like? Let’s do it New York.

Below is a FOIA request made by Reinvent Albany last week. FOIAonline shows the specifics of our request to EPA but not the Department of Commerce.