Overworked agencies not complying with EFOIA

Officials from federal agencies told members of Congress yesterday that huge backlogs of processing paper documents have prevented them from complying with a law that requires agencies to disseminate more information electronically.

The law, amended in 1996 and called the Electronic Freedom of Information of Act (EFOIA), was enacted to promote the public's participation in government by requiring agencies to be proactive in disseminating information online rather than waiting until the public formally requests it. The information would include such sought-after federal documents as lists of federal employees who are allowed to use federal credit cards.

But backlogs in the processing of traditional paper-based requests for information is hindering some agencies from fully complying with EFOIA, according to agency officials.

"In all honesty, our effort right now is to reduce the backlog because it is so high," John Collingwood, a spokesman for the FBI, told the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology. Collingwood said the agency has a backlog of nearly 11,900 requests for information—- from simple requests for an individual's FBI file to complicated requests for information on many people and many issues.

Patrice McDermott, an information policy analyst at the nonprofit government watchdog group OMB Watch, said that of 57 federal agencies recently surveyed by her organization, none had complied fully with EFOIA.

Michael Tankersley, senior staff attorney at the nonprofit Public Citizen Litigation Group, said, "There are many agencies that are not treating [EFOIA] provisions as something that they're required to do now."

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