The Impact of Administrative Accountability

The Impact of Administrative Accountability

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

FOIA is an act that sets right for the public to request records held by the federal agencies. Those who can ask for the information includes the US citizens and organizations as well as foreign national and organizations (Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)). The groups which are subject to the act are all departments and agencies of the executive. The law does not apply to the legislative and judicial branches of the government, the president, vice president and the immediate staff to the head of state. However, the Presidential Records Act of 1978 allows access to some of the records from the president’s office through FOIA although it is restricted to between five and twelve years after exiting from the office.  The law also does not apply to States governments where each has its own rules on the freedom of information. There is no specific general office from the federal government where people can request the information, but the law requires that each agency or department have a position to serve the public. According to the act, each agency or department should have a Chief FIOA Officer to handle such issues (FOIA). The officer receives and processes requests from the public.

Although the act requires the agencies to provide the public with information, there are some which they withhold due to their nature including personal privacy and national security. The exceptions to the act include information that is classified for foreign relation and national defense, trade secrets, geological information, information on supervision of institutions dealing with finances and internal rules of the agency (FOIA). Also, the information that the federal law prohibits from disclosure, inter and intra agency communication which legal privileges protects, information on personal privacy described by the privacy act and information made for law enforcement (FOIA). However, despite the exceptions, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 added the presumption of openness where an agency should only restrict access to information only if it harms any of the interested parties. It means that an agency can provide the information listed on the exceptions.

The act requires agencies to provide information about their operations regularly even without public request (FOIA). However, the public can request for information that is not published. The law in that effect requires agencies to provide the public with information on where and how they can access or submit a request for access to information. The public should get information in whatever form they request as long as it is available although, at a fee, as described by the department.

The Privacy Act

The Privacy Act is a set of rules on proper handling of information guiding on how to collect, maintain, use and disseminate any personally identifiable information which the federal government and its agencies hold in the system of records. Personally, identifiable information is any data that labels a person, for example, a name, social security or health insurance number (Privacy Act of 1974, 2012). The act protects the records which the government holds relating to a person. The record of information refers to a collection of information that the federal agencies can retrieve using any of the personally identifiable information. Examples of such records include the title deed, Logbook, health insurance account among others. Such records or accounts carries information that consists of the name of that person, identity card number, passport number, social security number, and even the photograph. Government agencies can key in any of that information on an electronic device to retrieve the account holding the other information. Each agency has its record with different details of a person depending on what they handle.

The main aim of the privacy act is to control the government on the use, collection maintenance and disclosure of individual’s information against its need to maintain it (Privacy Act of 1974, 2012). Personal information is prone to use in ways that defame a person, for example, exposing people that they are suffering from a specific disease or they own a particular type of properties. The media, non-governmental organizations, individuals and other governments may want such information and try to get it from the government agencies. The act, therefore, prescribes under what circumstances the agencies should disclose such information in ways that will not lead to harm of the person. The bill also allows the individuals to access the information that the agencies hold concerning them (Privacy Act of 1974, 2012). The access helps to check whether the agency is representing the individual in the right way and that it has not changed. Information such as that regarding the ownership of a property is prone to changes by any person working in the agency to gain from the act. A plot number of a person can be changed with another one. Regular checking allows a person to raise the alarm as early as possible.

The act provides individuals with the right to request agencies to amend the information whenever necessary. People’s names can change or even their other numbers like property, social security and health insurance leading to misrepresentation in the agency records. In that case, a person can seek changes. Lastly, the act aims at controlling how the agencies control and maintain the information (Privacy Act of 1974, 2012). Sometimes the methods they use to collect may expose details of an individual to others.  For example, an agent may be recording the information on a sheet of paper or book where is looking at the other previously recorded information about other people. Also, the department can maintain the information on an open record like a computer without a password where anybody in that office can access it. The act provides guidelines and rules on how to collect and maintain the information in a secure way.

FOIA and Privacy Acts and Government Transparency and Accountability

Both FOIA and the privacy act are necessary to maintain government transparency and accountability to the public because they extend participation and the oversite power of the citizens. People hold government offices out of trust from the public or leaders who elected or appointed them. Trust is not something one can have tangible evidence. It, therefore, means that although society chooses a leader or the government selects agencies out of trust, they have to keep on watching whether that trust maintains or it was fake. People will tend to fake trust to hold the offices and later use the opportunity to misuse public funds or fail to carry on their duties as required. Having the right to access information alerts those in offices that any time somebody can access their work where they think that all is not well (Grimmelikhuijsen & Feeney 2017). With that the idea of FIOA and privacy act in mind, the leaders will fear to alter personal information or fail to perform. The fear, therefore, makes the office holders act in a transparency way because they don’t want to lose their positions or end up in prison.

Corruption grows where there is no light of what activities the government is doing. Those holding the offices will be tempted to carry out alterations because they know that nobody will be aware of what happened. FOIA, therefore, is essential to shed right on what is happening in the government offices and therefore maintain transparency (Lamdan, 2011). Knowing that the public has the right and can investigate the activities in agency offices through information they provide will make the people holding the offices maintain the right code of conduct. The main reason for the introduction of the FOIA was to reduce the government secrecy where it was carrying out activities that are not acceptable in society (Ginsberg, 2014). One of such was the dismissal of thousands of workers with the claim that they were supporting the opposition party, communist (Ginsberg, 2014). However, it was hard for the public to ascertain the reason because they were not allowed to access government information. It shows that the government was not transparent because nobody would obtain evidence of its activities. The FIOA, therefore, is a tool that the public can use to hold the government accountable and thus make it transparent in its activities.

Accountability relates to the role or duty of the person holding an office to explain what activities they are carrying out and the results in a transparent manner. It is the act of requesting a person to explain the reasons why they acted in a particular way towards a project or used the specified amount of money. The privacy act and FOIA allows the public to hold the government accountable because they give them the power to access information on what happened (Lamdan, 2011). With the power and right, a person will get the information from the government offices on why the funded one project and not the other (Ginsberg, 2014). Without the laws, it would be hard to get the information form, public officers, because they assume that they are senior to the public (Cucciniello et al., 2017). Such people tend to be hostile because they want to find some of the actions that may lead them to jail.

Government agencies will prepare reports of projects or activities on request from the public because they know that the law provides the right to access. The bill, therefore, forces the officials to say what they did which otherwise would not happen because it is not an easy task to prepare a report and also they may not be straight with the use of public funds (Lamdan, 2011). The acts, therefore, are essential to question the agencies on their activities because they must produce them.

FIOA and privacy lead to an open government where everything that goes on in the office, the public can see. It gives the public an opportunity to participate through questioning the worth of projects and systems (Grimmelikhuijsen & Feeney 2017). FIOA forces the agencies to publish the information of their activities the public is therefore to see details of what goes on in the offices. Without the acts, citizens would only see a building or any other business going on, but they are not aware of what is happening behind the scenes. The government would not explain further without a compelling law so that it can get an opportunity to benefit or to carry on corruption (Cucciniello et al., 2017). The acts, therefore, compel the government to expose its activities so that the public can see what it is doing.



Lamdan, S. S. (2011). Protecting the Freedom of Information Act requestor: Privacy for information seekers. Kan. JL & Pub. Pol’y21, 221.

Grimmelikhuijsen, S. G., & Feeney, M. K. (2017). Developing and testing an integrative framework for open government adoption in local governments. Public Administration Review77(4), 579-590.

Cucciniello, M., Porumbescu, G. A., & Grimmelikhuijsen, S. (2017). 25 years of transparency research: Evidence and future directions. Public Administration Review77(1), 32-44.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552,

Privacy Act of 1974 (2012 Edition)

Ginsberg, W. (2014). The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): Background, legislation, and policy issues. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.