Magazine article The Quill

Through the Years . .

Magazine article The Quill

Through the Years . .

Article excerpt


August 2000


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Four years after the 1996 passage of "E-FOIA" amendments intended to facilitate public access to information on the internet, Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman, had to answer a question. Congress wanted to know "True or false: Federal government information on the internet makes access to government records or information under the Freedom of Information Act faster and easier." His answer: False.

He had recently spoken on behalf of SPJ before the congressional subcommittee that oversees FOIA with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and OMB Watch, the federal watchdog group. Congress needed an assessment of the progress achieved by the E-FOIA amendments.

Similar to testimony from past SPJ president and FOI committee member Dave Cuillier in June, Marquand discussed the FOIA issues plaguing journalists. After four years to become compliant with E-FOIA regulations requiring information to be available in electronic form, Marquand argued that most government websites include little more than statistics, press releases and position statements. Small improvements, but nowhere near what was expected.

The lack of compliance was due to a lack of enforcement. With no punitive reasons to have the required websites, reading rooms and electronic records indexes, agencies didn't create them. When asked by the subcommittee chairman, none of the agencies knew who was enforcing E-FOIA, nor could they assess what percentage of agencies were in compliance. …

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