Attorney General August 28, 1995 Memorandum on FOIA Work Performance Standards

 


Office of the Attorney General
Washington, D.C. 20530

August 28, 1995

MEMORANDUM

TO: HEADS OF COMPONENTS

FROM: THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

SUBJECT: WORK PERFORMANCE STANDARDS RELATING TO RESPONSIBILITIES UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT AND THE PRIVACY ACT

In October 1993, the President and I each announced an important initiative concerning the Freedom of Information Act. In the last 20 months, we have taken a variety of steps to implement this initiative, including the in-depth training of FOIA processors throughout the government on application of the new administrative standards; the Civil Division's review of hundreds of outstanding cases to identify those which could be resolved under the new standard and thereafter ordering the discretionary release of many requested documents; the institution of a new procedure for making information of significant public interest available on an expedited basis; developing a publicly-available Internet site for Department components to post public information electronically; the establishment of a Justice Performance Review Laboratory to explore the application of technology to the FOIA/PA process; and, in December 1994, the establishment of specific FOIA/PA backlog reduction goals for each component, measurable in six-month intervals.

Timely performance of our responsibilities to FOIA/PA requesters requires more than the efforts of FOIA personnel; it requires the cooperation of all non-FOIA personnel who receive, transmit, and review potentially releasable information. Our analysis of the historic FOIA/PA backlog problem in the Department has shown that steps taken before the actual processing stage by FOIA personnel contribute to significant delay in responding to requesters. I therefore am asking components to establish a new mandatory performance standard because it is vital that all Department employees involved in each stage of handling a FOIA or Privacy Act request -- be it the receipt, logging, acknowledgment, transmittal, search and retrieval, actual processing and reviewing, or classification review -- be mindful of their statutory obligations to the public and of the Department's expectations for their thorough, timely, and efficient performance of these duties.

Now, to continue to highlight the significance of FOIA/PA responsibilities throughout the Department and to improve accountability for all personnel who have such responsibilities (whether full-time or part-time), I am directing component heads to develop work plans for all employees who have any FOIA-related responsibilities so as to include an appropriate element for compliance with FOIA requirements. In lieu of a series of Department-wide standards, I ask that you develop elements suitable for your employees' particular responsibilities and, in so doing, that you review existing performance standards for all FOIA personnel as well as enhance performance standards for those employees who devote only some of their time to FOIA-related responsibilities. This will ensure maximum flexibility, enabling components to adopt multi-level standards best suited to the component's mission, while at the same time recognizing the Department's overall statutory responsibilities. Work plans for supervisors should also be adapted to incorporate these standards. To assist you in this effort, several model performance standards are attached.

Please send copies of the new or revised work performance standards to the Assistant Attorney General for Administration, Stephen R. Colgate. I would like these standards to be communicated to affected employees and made effective as early as practicable. Please do not wait until the beginning of the next rating cycle to effect the new or revised performance standards. They may be implemented at any time. Moreover, there is sufficient time to implement the standards well before the end of the current rating periods (March 31, 1996 and June 30, 1996) with employees being covered under the standards for the required minimum appraisal period of 90 days. If you have any questions, please contact Steve Colgate or Deputy Assistant Attorney General/OPD Roslyn Mazer.

Thank you for your energetic support of this important Department initiative.

Attachments

Support Positions

Element - Assists in providing timely responses to FOIA/PA requests by substantially completing a majority of the following during the rating period.

Fully Successful - Incoming FOIA/PA requests are promptly reviewed and analyzed. Supervisor is promptly informed of substantially all urgent matters. Appropriate record searches are conducted and necessary information is located and assembled within required time frames. Tracking system on the status of pending cases is accurately maintained and supervisor is kept abreast of the status of all FOIA/PA requests. Accurate files are maintained, revised, and updated in an orderly and accessible manner. Substantially all outgoing FOIA/PA correspondence is reviewed to ensure that records are properly assembled and all responsive records are attached.

Professional Positions (Positions specifically tasked with FOIA/PA responsibility, e.g., paralegal specialists.)

Element - Complies with provisions of law and Department policies and procedures to ensure prompt and complete responses to FOIA/PA requests as evidenced by a majority of the following during the rating period.

Fully Successful - With minimal supervision, locates and assembles all documents responsive to assigned FOIA/PA requests within the required time frames. Identifies and marks responsive documents for release or withholding, utilizing appropriate exemptions in accordance with current Department policies and procedures. Keeps abreast of changes in laws, regulations, policies, and procedures. Drafts and submits appropriate responses by the required due dates.

[This standard is drafted for processors and reviewers. It is not meant for AUSAs who handle FOIA cases in litigation. These individuals already have a critical element relating to FOIA in their workplans.]

Professional Positions (Positions that have responsibility for certain aspects of the Department's compliance with its disclosure obligations.)

Element - Complies with provisions of law and Department policies and procedures to ensure prompt and complete responses to FOIA/PA requests.

Fully Successful - FOIA/PA requests are promptly and thoroughly reviewed and analyzed, and responses are properly prepared within the required time frames consistent with all governing legal and regulatory provisions. In situations where the due dates will not be met due to the difficulty of the response and/or the availability of information to be provided, negotiates and establishes new due dates before the initial due dates expire. Keeps supervisor informed of reasons for any delays and promptly follows up with appropriate information.

Supervisory Positions

Element - Ensures compliance with provisions of law and Department policies and procedures and the timely completion and response to FOIA/PA requests.

Fully Successful - Work is delegated and staff assignments are well-balanced and well-coordinated to ensure the full utilization of staff resources so that FOIA/PA program activities are properly carried out within established deadlines and consistent with Department policies and procedures and governing legal and regulatory provisions.

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