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Agencies launch public FOIA website

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Several agencies have partnered to launch an online system for streamlining Freedom of Information Act requests.

The website, Foiaonline.regulations.gov, allows the public to submit FOIA requests, file appeals, search through requests from others and access previously released documents, the National Archives and Records Administration announced Monday.

NARA is partnering with the Commerce Department and Environmental Protection Agency to develop the website, which was built on the same infrastructure as EPA’s Regulations.gov website.

“FOIAonline avoided many start-up costs, resulting in a total of $1.3 million to launch and an estimated cost avoidance of $200 million over the next five years if broadly adopted,” NARA said.

So far, the Treasury Department, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, and the Merit Systems Protection Board, have agreed to use the new FOIA portal. Agencies will be able to receive and store requests, assign and process requests, post responses, manage records electronically and more.

The website will also allow agencies to collaborate on FOIA requests and automate certain request tasks, according to OMB Watch, a government watchdog group. ”This should help speed up processing and bring down the number of backlogged FOIA requests,” the group said.

The federal government had a backlog of 83,490 requests in fiscal 2011, up from 69,526 in fiscal 2010, according to FOIA.gov.

For now, users of the new FOIA website will not be able to track the progress of their FOIA request or communicate with the agency processing a request. Don’t be surprised if you can’t view details of the FOIA requests but, instead, get a message saying the description of this request is under agency review.

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