The Justice Department's second annual report on agencies' efforts to improve responses to requests for public information paints a disingenuous "rose-colored" portrait, advocates of openness in government said Monday.
The 118-page report, issued earlier this month under a requirement in the December 2005 executive order mandating improvements in the administration of Freedom of Information Act requests, stated that agencies are making "diligent and measurable progress." But there is little evidence to support this conclusion, members of the FOIA community said.
Daniel Metcalfe, the former director of the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy, said the report is an "unfortunately transparent" attempt to make the situation look far better than it actually is. Metcalfe is now retired.
Rather than simply stating whether agencies were successful in meeting their goals as outlined under the executive order, the report makes use of Office of Management and Budget-style traffic light grades measuring success, Metcalfe noted. The grades are assigned by the Justice Department "in coordination with OMB," the report stated.
"The executive order says that either you met an improvement goal or you didn't," Metcalfe said. "That doesn't translate to red, yellow, green. It's black and white. And unfortunately, there's a lot of black underneath OMB's yellow."
The majority of the marks handed out to the 25 agencies and their components, over dozens of categories, were green. There were only four reds assigned.
"The only middle ground that has any place in a report such as this," Metcalfe said, is where an agency missed an early goal or interim milestone "but at least redoubled its efforts to meet it subsequently and by now has done so." But even this is "lamely obscured" by the OMB-style self-categorization, he said.