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With most government employees still working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, the disclosure of public records by many federal agencies and local government offices nationwide has worsened or even ground to a halt.
When the pandemic was declared in early March, many employees at local, state and federal agencies abandoned their offices and began working remotely. Employees tasked with answering open-records requests have been forced to rely on telework computer systems that are often incompatible with the software used to process records requests.
“I apologize for not getting the FOI response to you,” a public-records officer with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority wrote in an April response to a Washington Post public-records request for emails about the construction of Northern Virginia’s Silver Line rail project. “[I] had to replace ink cartridges in my home office.”
The federal and state laws that require government agencies to disclose their records — generally referred to as FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, laws — are powerful tools that have been used to expose the behind-the-scenes government machinations on matters of public interest.