Sunshine Week Brings New, But Critics Say Glass is Still Half Full

Font Size:

New government website teaches users how to request government information but with mixed reactions.

Font Size:

In a press release this Monday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the launch of its new website. Created just in time for Sunshine Week, “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information,” the site was developed as part of the DOJ’s open government initiative (see related The Regulatory Review essay).

On, users can learn how to make a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request or access data and generate up-to-date reports about agency FOIA requests. For example, readers can see agencies’ responsiveness by generating reports on their processing times for FOIA requests.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on FOIA requests that also discussed the Obama Administration’s efforts to promote openness.

Also during Sunshine Week, the National Security Archive at the George Washington University released a report on the Administration’s transparency record. According to the report, a few agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of the Interior, have responded to the Administration’s calls for openness by improving their FOIA processes significantly.

But overall, the National Security Archive’s report, entitled “Glass Half Full,” suggests that “only 13 out of 90 agencies had actually responded to the president’s order with concrete changes in their FOIA procedures during the first year of the Obama administration.”

This may be another example of what University of Pennsylvania Professor Cary Coglianese has called the “transparency trap.”  The Obama Administration’s affirmative efforts to advance open government can become overshadowed by agencies’ failures to meet the high expectations generated by some of President Obama’s aspirational rhetoric.