Sunday, March 23, 2008

FOIA Spotlight: The U.S. Department of State

One of Several Posts about Open Government Laws and Genealogy

Last week, as we noted, was Sunshine Week, focused on open government, and open records in particular. Although the commemoration has passed, we'll continue in the next few posts to focus on open records. After all, every week should be Sunshine Week!

Our FOIA Spotlight today is on the U.S. Department of State. A common request made by genealogists is for passport records. So I requested the records of my grandmother, Jessie Beatrice Bowie.

The State Department handled the initial phase of the request pretty well. Their FOIA web pages are easy to read and understand. And they have a user-friendly "FOIA Request Generator." Within hours of making the request, the State Department had replied acknowledging the request. That's great for a FOIA office! Then, the FOIA Office called me (at 7:30 am PDT!) to say that their first e-mail was in error and they were sending a second, corrected, e-mail. As far as I could tell, the "error" involved some irrelevant administrative info. But, again, this is platinum class service from a government agency.

So we'll see what happens next!

Some observant readers may be saying, "Didn't he request these same records once before?" Well, sort of. We'll explain later in the week what happened with that request.

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