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Which Agencies Are Best At Responding to FOIA Requests?

USDA and Social Security are the most responsive; State and HHS, the least, nonprofit finds.

Of the 15 major agencies that receive the most Freedom of Information Act requests, eight improved their responsiveness over the past year but none earned an “A,” according to a FOIA “report card” released Tuesday by the nonprofit Center for Effective Government.

The number of agencies graded as “failing” fell from five to just two, but eight received “D’s” in the study, which ranked the State and Health and Human Services departments as least responsive.

Top grades went to the Agriculture Department and Social Security Administration.

"The Freedom of Information Act represents the foundational transparency law for the federal government," said Katherine McFate, the center’s president and CEO. "It is supposed to guarantee ordinary Americans access to government information; it allows the media, advocacy organizations, and citizens to see how government does its work, how decisions are made and what our public officials do in our name. But providing information to the public requires staff, resources and commitment. Our report shows agencies are still struggling with the task.”

The evaluators assigned scores based on agency rules for processing information; FOIA websites that are easy to use, updated regularly and provide information people want; and speed and responsiveness in handling information requests. The most improvement came in quality of websites.

“Only two agencies improved their FOIA policy guidelines, and processing scores actually declined in eight agencies,” the study said. “Consistency is elusive.”

Bills to strengthen “a presumption of openness” in FOIA have bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. The center urged the White House to issue uniform processing rules.

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