It’s pretty easy to see, based on the heavily redacted documents that were produced in response to David Codrea’s FOIA request on the gunwalker scandal that there is something wrong with how we’re implementing the idea that the records the government produces belong to the people. Part of that has to do with how the act is structured.
Currently every agency is required to have a FOIA office that handles those kinds of requests and produces the documents. This is going to create bad incentives for that agency to release as little as they can get away with, and bend the requirements of the law to the greatest extent possible in order to achieve that goal.
There should be a separate government agency in charge of FOIA requests, who are authorized to go into every government office, look at and duplicate records, and make the determination about how to implement the law. With FOIA being a separate agency, it will put the natural power hungry and empire building nature of bureaucrats to work doing the people’s business. Agents may even revel in revealing embarrassing or damning information from other agencies.
There should also be a mechanism that if a FOIA agent feels a document is improperly classified, its status can be challenged before an administrative law judge, with all the proper security clearances and precautions for classified data in place. Currently if you feel an agency is inappropriately denying your FOIA request, the onus to file suit is on you.
I’d even be up for paying the agents on a per document basis, and giving them bonuses based on the number of documents they get declassified. You can think of incentives here that could work pretty well. A lot of politicians have never liked FOIA, but if the government wants me to be an open book to it, then my government damned well better be an open book to me.