Dear State Dept OIG – Please Stop Playing Hide and Seek with Your Reports!

Harold W. Geisel, Deputy Inspector General, Term of Appointment: 06/02/2008 to present

It used to be that we could check the “Featured Items” in the OIG website and get the newest reports straight from the oven.

Sometime back, we’ve noticed that the newest reports were no longer consistently popping up in that section, but are filed in the regional sections of the reports. Which ensures that the reader had to do some digging before they get to read what they’re looking for. Here is what the OIG says about its reports:

Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports are posted on OIG’s Web sites in accordance with section 8L of The Inspector General Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C. App.), as amended. All reports are reviewed, and redacted when appropriate, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552), and related statues/regulations, plus the President’s memorandum on “Transparency and Open Government”, dated January 21, 2009, and the Attorney General’s FOIA guidelines dated March 19, 2009.

**NOTE: The dates on OIG reports represent the dates the publications were issued/published, not when they were posted to the Web site.

For example, and this is not the first one, we just don’t feel like digging around today — take its “latest” report of its inspection of the US Embassy in the Bahamas. The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 13 and 28, 2011; in Nassau,
The Bahamas, between September 29 and October 12, 2011; and in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, on October 2, 2011. The report is dated January 2012. And it is now posted in the OIG’s WHA section and the Featured Items section, but we have no idea when it actually went up online.

Here is the Featured Items section:

Well, I thought, I’d be damn, I am going blind! How could I have missed that report on The Bahamas when it is right there, there sandwiched between Algeria and the Bureau of Administration/GIS?

And then I saw this tweet from the State Department OIG on February 23, 2012 at 9:38 am.  Oooh, I am not going blind, after all!


I hate it when Transparency and Open Government plays tricks with me, I mean, don’t you?  So here is a quick note for the Inspector General of the Department of State:

Dear State Department OIG — Folks, you really need to indicate the dates when you put up your reports online, and stop making us play hide and seek with you. You have posted a note that says “The dates on OIG reports represent the dates the publications were issued/published, not when they were posted to the Web site.” Well, that’s no good, because you got redundant dates there that have no other function except potential confusion.

Let me help you, it’s really quick and easy. See the red circle below? That should be your posted date. Why? Because your OIG reports are only dated by month and year. The report on The Bahamas says: Inspection of Embassy Nassau, The Bahamas Report Number ISP-I-12-08A, January 2012. See? It did not/not say 1/31/12.  So where did that date come from, I’d like to know. And see the red rectangular-ish below? That’s the month and date indicated in the OIG reports.

Do we really need two dates there to confused us?  And I really hate to think of the possibility that these reports are accidentally “slipped” quietly into the queue.

Yes, we really do want to know when these reports are posted for public consumption.  You are very welcome!
Domani Spero

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9 responses

  1. Domani Spero,

    Thank you for your interest in OIG’s reports. In reviewing your concerns, we realized the sorting function for the “Featured Items” section had reverted back to “alpha sort” after a recent upgrade to our system. We have changed it back to “manual” so that the most recent reports we post are at the top of the list.

    Again, thank you for your interest and your help in making our site better. Please don’t hesitate to directly contact the OIG Webmaster (oigwebmaster@state.gov) with any future suggestions.

    OIG Webmaster

    • Dear OIG Webmaster – Thank you for your note. I hope you get a patch to fix that bug in your recent upgrade. I would still urge you to rethink the dating system of your posted reports. There is no practical use for having two “date published” listed, is there?

      • In order to provide as much information as possible about our reports, we have created a new field for the actual date they are posted to our site. Please see below for an example:

        -01/31/12 Inspection of Embassy Nassau, The Bahamas (ISP-I-12-08A) Jan 2012 [1011 Kb] Posted February 23, 2012

        We hope this helps, and thanks again for your feedback.
        OIG Webmaster

  2. Carissimo Domani,
    Has it ever occurred to you to send their webmaster an email and ask them about this rather than blast them on something you’re not sure about yourself? As a former webmaster, I know for a fact many times the content management system we’re forced to use has limitations, so don’t be so quick to assume they’re purposely hiding things or live to make your life miserable. I had a similar problem with DOD a while back, and I emailed them to ask about it/make a suggestion. They fixed the problem within a week. Honestly, it’s people like you who make government agencies look like they’re hiding things when all they need is suggestions for improvement to make their sites look more user-friendly. If you make a suggestion or ask a question and don’t get an adequate response, then by all means, put them on blast! But until then, please be fair.

    • Angela – thanks for your comment. You may be right but I also think it is fair to expect that the professionals paid to do their jobs do it right. And this is not the first time this has happened. I, too, for a time run a CMS website inside the double firewall. I am aware of the challenges. But you don’t forget functionality and user experience despite that.

      As to my contribution for making government agencies look like they’re hiding something, well, I can’t claim credit to all that. I don’t think they need any help for that matter. According to the State Department’s annual FOIA report to Congress for 2010, the median response for complex FOIA requests is 228 days. More than half a year, but there’s nothing to hide. The Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for government transparency and openness, calls the State Department’s FOIA office “one of the worst,” notorious for taking their “own sweet time” and playing a waiting game in the hopes that requesters “just go away.”
      http://www.iwatchnews.org/2011/07/06/5123/state-department-foia-requests-unanswered-four-long-years-later

      • I can’t argue that some agencies are worse at transparency that others. From a former Marine intel officer perspective, I also know that some things just don’t need to be made public. Ever. I obviously can’t speak for the State Department because I’m not their employee. That said, I can’t help but notice how your reply inadvertently slams State’s OIG again! If your readers don’t click on the link you provided and actually read the article, they might assume, as I initially did, that you were referring to State OIG’s FOIA office when in fact the article is about the State Department. I’m pretty sure they have separate FOIA offices since they are separate organizations. Since it seems OIG took the time to respond to your blog, I’m willing to bet they’re the type of government agency that actually cares what we think. I guess time will tell.

        • Woah Angie, calm down. We worked together for long enough that I shouldn’t have to remind you how bad OIG can be. He is just mad because the site is difficult to navigate. Yes, professionals should be making the site as easy to use as possible, but issues that come up during a system upgrade are not always easy to catch when you are watching a million other things. I’m sure that the changes will be made, and this issue will go away.

          Semper Fi