Open government beats FOIA for information access

Beth Noveck said new culture promotes free release of data

People requesting data through open government initiatives are getting much quicker responses than people using the traditional Freedom of Information Act channels, according to a senior White House official.

Beth Noveck, deputy CTO at the White House, suggested that the public should bypass the FOIA process and instead go directly to open government offices for data. Speaking at the American Constitution Society recently, Noveck addressed complaints that obtaining information through FOIA may take weeks or months.


Related coverage:

FBI launches new form to accept FOIA requests electronically

Treasury tops worst FOIA responders


“Why are you going to the lawyers?” Noveck said. “If you [file a request under FOIA], you will wait months and months, that is how it works. It is the nature of the process.” Because agencies must deal with large volume of FOIA requests, mostly in paperwork, it takes time and legal expertise to process the requests, she said.

To avoid the long wait, Noveck suggested applying for data directly from open government executives.

“Don’t write to the lawyers, write to the open government offices,” Noveck said. Some people have seen results in as little as 24 hours, although most take longer, she added.

Federal open government executives are promoting a culture in which large quantities of data are being made available to the public in easily accessible formats on a regular basis, Noveck said. Since April, each federal agency has created an open government unit and an open government plan that is culling high-value data for release.

“The open government process is our new paradigm,” Noveck said.

Open government encompasses not only transparency and government accountability, but it goes beyond those to include citizen empowerment, corporate accountability and economic and job growth through the greater use and availability of government data, Noveck said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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