The D.C. Freedom of Information Act includes a provision requiring city agencies to make certain categories of information available online, without a written request—including, for example, minutes of their meetings, staff manuals and instructions that affect members of the public, statements of policy, and budget-related documents during the budget development process. (D.C. Code § 2-536(a)(6A)). This provides an effective and efficient way for members of the public to learn about the government’s activities and operations. But agencies don’t always comply with this requirement, and the Mayor says the requirement has no teeth because individuals have no right to go to court to enforce it and the courts have no authority to order agencies to comply with it.
This case arose when a law firm asked for D.C. budget documents that should have been posted online. When the Mayor’s office refused to provide them, the law firm sued. The Superior Court ruled that it did have power to enforce the law and ordered the Mayor to publish the budget documents.
The Mayor (represented by the D.C. Attorney General) appealed, arguing that budget documents are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, that they are subject to “Executive Privilege”(!), that no one has standing to enforce the publication requirement, and that the courts have no authority to order agencies to obey the publication requirement.
In February 2022, we filed an amicus brief, authored by Public Citizen and also joined by the D.C. Open Government Coalition, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, and the Washington, D.C. Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The brief argues that the Freedom of Information Act does authorize private lawsuits to enforce the publication provision, and that the courts do have authority to order agencies to comply with it.