Fed agencies construct electronic reading rooms both lavish, sparse

Spurred on by amendments to the Electronic Freedom of Information Act (E-FOIA) agencies have begun to construct a mixed bag of "electronic reading rooms" to enhance public availability of their records.

All federal agencies and departments are required to use information technology to deploy their public reading room records by Nov. 1. A casual perusal of a handful of agencies that have constructed electronic reading rooms on the World Wide Web found NASA's room the most informative and well-organized.

Bypass the meandering path you have to take from the agency's main home page and point your browser to www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/FOIA/elec.html to enter the reading room. (You can jump back from here to NASA's conventional FOIA page if you need basic information about the law or contact names and phone numbers.)

Here NASA provides a link to its newly developed NASA Online Directives Information System which includes electronic copies of policies and procedures for NASA programs services and management activities. It also links users to the Government Information Locator System NASA's annual report and information about all of its planned space missions. Here users also can file a FOIA request electronically.

The Justice Department the agency responsible for regulating and enforcing conventional FOIA and E-FOIA legislation also provides a wide variety of electronic reading rooms that offer loads of helpful information held in for example its Tax Division the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Trustee Program.

Naturally those agencies overflowing with what would be the most intriguing information have not thrown open the electronic reading room doors. The CIA has not yet posted an electronic reading room and the FBI states on its FOIA page that no FBI documents meet the FOIA requirement to be published via the Internet.

Some agencies have shown lackluster efforts in building electronic reading rooms. The Army's reading room although launched only recently contained only two documents: its human relations action plan and a report from a senior review panel on sexual harassment.

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