DC open government office for first time raps an agency for evading mandatory no-fee, no-request publication law

Calling the agency “woefully out of compliance” with the District’s Freedom of Information Act, the DC Office of Open Government issued an opinion Friday finding the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) failed to post records of building permits required to be available free online. Instead, according to the opinion, the agency disobeyed the law two ways, first by requiring an ANC Commissioner asking for a copy of a permit file to submit a FOIA request, then sending it to be processed by a private copy service that could charge its own fees.

Mandatory disclosures are part of the D.C. FOIA intended to make a wide range of agencies' records readily available at no charge, without burdening the public with details of formal request. Included are 10 kinds of information such as agency decisions, rules, contracts, staff salaries and more; online access applies to records created since 2001.

Advocates have noted for years that agencies commonly ignore the law. See, for example, a study of 54 agencies in 2009 by the D.C. Open Government Coalition and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University finding required records were posted less than half the time. Continue…