18F

Making government simple, beautiful, and easy to use.

This blog was orginially posted on the 18F Blog.

A New Look at the Freedom of Information Act

By Jackie Kazil, Shashank Khandelwal, Raphael Majma, Eric Mill, and Victor Diaz Zapanta

There are many ways the public can get information from the Federal Government. For example, you can check out data.gov to find scores of datasets and APIs, agency websites for information about their work, or other important information in online FOIA Libraries.

Or you can also just ask for it.

Since 1966, the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, has granted the public the right to access information from the Federal Government. This public right has been maintained for decades and has served as the backbone for information disclosures. This has led to the publication of many important news stories and greater public awareness around government activities.

As demand for information continues to grow, it is important to continue iterating the ways we refine the FOIA request process. Our effort is one of a number of commitments towards creating a more open, transparent government. We will explore how to supplement the work that has already been done by creating tools to improve the online FOIA requests process by designing for the user.

photo: a mockup of our app on an iPhone
Above: an illustrative prototype running on a mobile device (the logo in the photo is not a live URL)

We are exploring building tools that:

  • improve the FOIA request submission experience;
  • create a scalable infrastructure for making requests to federal agencies; and
  • make it easier for requesters to find records and other information that have already been made available online.

This effort will be conducted with the assistance of a number of agencies and offices within the Federal Government. A FOIA Task Force, which consists of representatives from the Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and others, has been created to oversee the creation of these open source software resources.

To reach our goals, the FOIA team at 18F has been meeting with stakeholders, both inside and outside the government, to discuss some of the practical obstacles impeding the current FOIA experience.

As we continue, we look forward to informing you of what we learned, but more importantly we look forward to informing you of what we’re building. We currently have a prototype available of what a consolidated request submission hub could look like. Please follow along at our main FOIA repo, give us feedback or contribute, and look for more updates in the future.