I. The Mayor’s Transparency Initiative
As part of the transition, we recommend that the new mayor issue guidance to prospective agency heads emphasizing that transparency is a priority and that each is expected to play a major role in furthering the mayor’s transparency initiative. When the administration takes office, the mayor should issue an Executive Order implementing the transparency initiative which:
- Declares that disclosure is the default: Any exemptions are to be interpreted narrowly when agencies respond to information requests. Explanation.
Includes transparency metrics among criteria for assessing overall performance: The initiative should criteria the mayor will use to assess overall agency performance, including each agency’s:
- Promptness in processing FOIA requests;
- Meaningful participation in resolving FOIA disputes promptly;
- Accuracy of disclosure decisions, as measured by results in appeals from agency decisions; and
- Compliance with FOIA’s affirmative disclosure requirements. See below at 11.
- Establishes an online reading room: There should be a government-wide policy requiring each agency to maintain in its online reading room a searchable database of all frequently requested records as a means to reduce the number of individual requests submitted, minimize the risk that successive requests will produce disparate disclosure decisions, and ultimately reduce the government’s compliance costs.
- Fulfills the requester’s preference with regard to record format: Records should be released, at the requester’s option, in electronic formats, preserving any underlying data. Explanation11.
- Promotes Affirmative Disclosure: Legal and technical assistance should be provided through OOG to bring every agency into compliance with the affirmative disclosure requirements in D.C. Code § 2-536. See below at 11.
- Delegates Administrative Appeals authority to the OOG: Until the D.C. Council enacts legislation amending the current process for appealing an adverse FOIA determination, D.C. Code § 2-537(a), the authority vested in the mayor to adjudicate FOIA administrative appeals will be delegated to the OOG, with commensurate resources made available to the Office through reprogramming and/or temporary reassignment of staff. See below at 12.
- Directs agency compliance with OOG rulings in administrative appeals: When the OOG has issued an opinion in an administrative appeal that is adverse to the agency’s position, the agency shall comply with the ruling as it would if the ruling had been issued by the mayor. See below at 12.
- Requires agencies to seek counsel from OOG when withholding: When agencies consider withholding records responsive to FOIA requests, they should be directed to seek guidance from the OOG.
- Initiates a mediation program: A FOIA mediation program designed to resolve disputes without resort to formal administrative or judicial process should be created. See below at 12.
- Designates the OOG as a key participant records management: The OOG should be involved in the creation and updating of records management policies, procedures and systems to ensure that they are designed to facilitate public access to information. See below at 12.
- Directs the OOG to make recommendations regarding a fee schedule: The OOG should make recommendations within 180 days concerning establishment of a government-wide fee schedule for processing FOIA requests, categories of requesters for whom fees should be waived, and categories of information for which fees should be reduced or waived because disclosure is in the public interest. See below at 12.
- Commits to amending the FOIA and OMA via legislation: There should be a mayoral commitment to submit to the D.C. Council legislation to amend and strengthen the FOIA and the OMA.