Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest Email

We conducted our second annual analysis of the performance of the 15 federal agencies that consistently receive the most Freedom of Information Act requests. Most agencies have improved, but scores are once again low overall.


A building block of American democracy is the idea that as citizens, we have a right to information about how our government works and what it does in our name.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires federal agencies to promptly respond to public requests for information unless disclosure of the requested information would harm a protected interest. But implementation of the law since its passage in 1966 has been uneven and inconsistent across federal agencies.

This is the second year we have conducted a very detailed comparative analysis of the performance of the 15 federal agencies that consistently receive the most FOIA requests. Combined, these 15 agencies received over 90 percent of all information requests for each of last two years. We examined their performance in three key areas:

  • The establishment of clear agency rules guiding the release of information and communication with those requesting information;
  • The quality and “user-friendliness” of an agency’s FOIA website; and
  • The timely, complete processing of requests for information.

The number of requests each agency receives, the complexity of the requests, and the number of staff assigned within an agency to process them varies widely and can impact performance.

The results of our analysis: eight out of 15 agencies improved their overall scores this year, and in each of the three performance areas, more agencies received the highest grades (A). But only two agencies improved their FOIA policy guidelines, and processing scores actually declined in eight agencies. Ten of the agencies failed to achieve a satisfactory overall grade.

Fulfilling the promise of full, timely public access to meaningful government information is an ongoing, complex process that requires leadership and commitment. The Obama administration, Congress, and agency leaders need to ensure that agencies have the staff and resources they need to process requests in a timely manner.


"The Freedom of Information Act represents the foundational transparency law for the federal government. It is supposed to guarantee ordinary Americans access to government information; it allows the media, advocacy organizations, and citizens to see how government does its work, how decisions are made, and what our public officials do in our name. But providing information to the public requires staff, resources, and commitment. Our report shows agencies are still struggling with the task."

- Katherine McFate, President and CEO of the Center for Effective Government

Our Report Findings:

  • A majority of agencies – eight – improved their overall scores from last year. Performance at most agencies is moving in the right direction.
  • More agencies received the highest grades possible (A) in each performance area than last year, with significant enhancements in websites, but timely request processing remains a challenge.
  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA) was the top performer, with a B grade, and the Social Security Administration came in second with a B-.
  • Despite these improvements, federal agencies are still struggling to effectively and consistently implement public disclosure rules.
  • Ten of the 15 agencies did not earn satisfactory overall grades, scoring less than 70 out of a possible 100 points.
  • The scores of five agencies – the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, and the Environmental Protection Agency – fell marginally.

Moving Forward:

  • Every agency will need to develop its own unique plan for improvement, given the differences in content and staffing, but each can learn from the strong performers and the best practices identified in this report. Excellence is possible.
  • The gold standard of a modern access-to-government-information system is proactive, online, interactive disclosure. Getting there will require resources and incentives; digitizing data takes time, planning, staff, and up-to-date technology.
  • Congress has already introduced another round of FOIA improvements, and the American people can encourage their members of Congress to support these bills. These legislative reforms would push agencies to update their policies and programs.
  • The Obama administration is currently working on uniform FOIA rules and a centralized online FOIA request portal. If these efforts are successful, we could see significant improvements in performance across numerous agencies.

Our Full Report:


More Resources:


back to Blog