Digital Gov

DOJ taps 18F for FOIA portal

Shutterstock image: government access keyboard. 

The Office of Information Policy at the Justice Department has teamed up with 18F to create a one-stop portal to handle Freedom of Information Act requests for all 119 agencies covered by the transparency law.

The portal is required under the 2016 FOIA Improvement Act, and will be interoperable with agencies' current systems and allow the public to request documents from any agency covered by FOIA on a single website.

"The baseline for the portal is to have a single place where a member of the public can make a request to any agency," Melanie Pustay, the director of Justice's Office of Information Policy, told FCW. "And right now, there's not one spot where you can easily go and make a request to any of those 119" agencies.

Pustay said that her office, in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget, has secured $1.3 million to stand up the site.

"Our initial funding is to help us with the development," she said. "We're definitely going to need more funding for maintenance and operation… so we still have additional steps to take to figure out the best sources of funding going forward."

Pustay said that she envisions the portal improving the FOIA process in ways beyond simply hosting a menu of different agencies and handling requests.

"Making a request is really one of the easier parts of FOIA," she said. "Having features that could help requesters identify where to go could be really helpful to the FOIA process."

Pustay said she hopes "the portal can do things like guide a requester to the correct agency." Given that there are overlaps in agency missions and each agency's request system is different. "it can hard for requesters to know where do I go."

She also said that the site "ideally" will make it easier for users to locate and access information that has already been released by agencies, adding that putting documents "up on the website is one step, but then making sure that they're really easily locatable by the public is what will be the most useful."

Because the FOIA process can be frustrating for both requesters and agencies, Pustay said that, in addition to being in "daily contact" with 18F, her office will consult with requesters and agencies directly to incorporate their feedback throughout the iterative process.

She said that even if agencies' reliance on different systems poses a challenge to achieving interoperability, "we don't want any agency to lose efficiency," and added the site "will all be built in the open… to make this a reality."

The Justice website asks agencies and requesters interested in participating in the site's build-out to notify its Office of Information Policy by April 28.

Pustay said the "ballpark" timeline is to have an operational version of the portal "up and running this calendar year," according to the schedule set out in the 2016 law.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group