Maybe I’m being a typical PoliSci major, but I’m continually annoyed at folks’ inability to acknowledge that most discussions require us to arrive at a compromised conclusion—which is magnified in discussions about politics, and especially the actions of regulating entities. Acting like there’s a simple answer to everything not only misleads the discussion, but serves to ignore some of the more pertinent issues. Unfortunately, this is a common trend in many organizations today.
In some news that may have gone unnoticed by most, the DOJ is being sued over its use of outdated technology (it’s offering outdated search engine access to its archives). Initial reactions to this story were characteristically split and slightly hyperbolic in nature. One side says government agencies should do everything in their power to meet the full mandate required by acts like FOIA. The other side claims that government resources are finite and we must make compromises on A) where we spend money, and B) how committed we are to each purchase—e.g. police need body cameras, but should every police officer be forced to wear one if money is limited?
The case with the DOJ archive is no different from the way the average organization deals with complicated issues today. Many claim that FOIA inherently requires agencies to adopt technology necessary to perform effective searches. Many others favor realism, claiming all we can expect is best efforts. Both sides miss the point entirely.
This kind of reductive argumentation removes our ability to delve into deeper issues.
There is no question as to whether or not FOIA is able to be met as intended—it isn’t. The argument isn’t about whether or not government should spend money on these sorts of things—they should (and they do). The real problem is how agencies demonstrate an active effort to manipulate the systems as best as they possibly can, just to meet the bare minimum requirements. It's actually pretty wild.
The technology is there. The money may not be. But the first step toward mitigating complicated issues like these is to expose systematic indifference and active pushback against efforts to introduce new technology, ultimately allowing laws and regulations to work properly.