NASA’s FOIA Program Gets High Marks

Last week, NASA received one of the highest grades in government when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee awarded the agency an A- for its ability to track and respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the public. Since being signed into law in 1966, FOIA has been an essential part of our nation’s commitment to government transparency. The act allows the public access to non-exempt government documents through submission of written requests. We at NASA work for the U.S. taxpayer, and as the nation’s civilian space agency, it is important that we be as open and available to public inquiries as possible.

When he took office in 2009, President Obama reinforced that commitment by issuing a memorandum to the heads of all government agencies, directing them to “renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government.” Each year, NASA receives about 1200 FOIA requests from citizens, including students, media outlets and others who are interested in some aspect of our work. We have always made an effort to respond to these requests in a timely and thorough manner. But three years ago, NASA had a huge backlog of FOIA requests. When Administrator Charles Bolden and I assumed leadership of the agency in 2009, we made communicating as openly as possible with the media and public and reducing that backlog one of our top priorities. And we have made outstanding progress.

In 2010, we hired a new Principal Agency FOIA officer, Miriam Brown-Lam. Since then, she and her team of FOIA officers and staff from our Centers across the country, have made significant business and process improvements to make our program more citizen-centric and user-friendly. As a result, we have been able to reduce our backlog of FOIA requests from 110 in 2010 to 34 last year – a reduction of 60 percent. NASA’s FOIA team continues to work to improve timeliness in responding to requests. They are required to undergo annual training to stay abreast of the latest developments, which has shown to be a value-added investment for the Agency. Because of this renewed commitment to service, accountability and excellence, Miriam tells me NASA is on track to have only a 10 percent backlog rate this year – a phenomenal achievement.

I want to congratulate Miriam Brown-Lam and NASA’s entire FOIA team for the A- we received on the House Oversight Committee report card and for their continued efforts to ensure that NASA is one of the most transparent and accountable agencies in government.