Justice Blogs

Monday, September 28, 2015

Courtesy of Director Lisa Foster of the Office for Access to Justice


“Providing meaningful access to justice is a national responsibility and a moral charge.  I am delighted by President Obama's action to expand legal aid resources for Americans in need, and excited for all that the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable will achieve as it works to advance opportunity, promote equality, and ensure justice for all.” – Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch

What do 20 federal agencies, the United Nations, and civil legal aid have in common?  Plenty, according to President Obama who recently issued a presidential memorandum formally establishing the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR).  The presidential memorandum was announced by Roy Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity as well as Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations at an event held on the eve of the UN's Sustainable Development Summit in New York.  The event highlighted the inclusion of Goal 16 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Goal 16 calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, for access to justice for all and for the building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.  With Goal 16, the international community has recognized that access to justice is essential to sustainable development and necessary to end poverty.

As the memorandum points out, LAIR is comprised of 20 federal agencies working together “to help the most vulnerable and underserved among us. . . By encouraging Federal departments and agencies to collaborate, share best practices, and consider the impact of legal services on the success of their programs, the Federal Government can enhance access to justice in our communities.”  Included in LAIR's mission is to assist the United States with implementation of Goal 16.

Initially conceived of and staffed by the Department of Justice's Office for Access to Justice (ATJ) in 2012, LAIR's accomplishments and ongoing activities include:

  • more than two dozen grants involving reentry, access to health care, citizenship, homeless veterans and other federal priorities have been clarified to allow legal services that further program goals;
  • more than two dozen webinars and other presentations to federal grantees, the civil legal aid community and federal agency staff about how legal aid advances federal priorities;
  • new training and technical assistance opportunities;
  • new research about civil legal aid;
  • launch of LAIR Toolkit on ATJ’s website, an online resource guide containing useful information about civil legal services, and how those services can help advance a broad array of Federal objectives;
  • international engagement by highlighting LAIR’s efforts through activities related to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States by the United Nations Human Rights Council, such as a civil society consultation on access to justice in April 2014 and reporting of LAIR efforts as examples of domestic human rights activities in the United States’ 2015 UPR submission; and
  • the 2014 Government Service Award from the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

In her speech, Ambassador Power said: “Access to legal services matter, and it is what can make the difference . . . for tangible individuals with faces and families; in a victim of domestic violence obtaining a restraining order; a homeless veteran getting housing assistance - ten more of whom become homeless in American every day; and a working mom receiving child support. . . .That is why the presidential memorandum . . . that President Obama signed today - which makes permanent an effort to increase access to services for the poor across 20 government agencies - is so important.”

Roy Austin said: "It has been a privilege to co-chair the LAIR with Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery.  The presidential memorandum recognizes the important work of our federal agencies to identify programs that help the vulnerable and underserved achieve improved outcomes and more efficiently reach their goals by incorporating civil legal aid partners."

ATJ looks forward to continuing its work in this area and engaging with our federal partners to help the most vulnerable and underserved among us.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

September is the final month of Fiscal Year 2015 and agency FOIA professionals are hard at work processing FOIA requests and administrative appeals in order to close out the year strongly. All the work done by agencies to administer the FOIA each year is captured in their Annual FOIA Reports and Chief FOIA Officer Reports. In addition, during the course of the year four key FOIA statistics are reported every three months in agency Quarterly FOIA Reports. These reports all serve an important role in documenting the efforts of  agencies to respond to the ever-increasing numbers of FOIA requests received each year. They also provide valuable information about the many ways agencies are working to find greater efficiencies, increase proactive disclosures and utilize technology to improve FOIA administration.

In order to satisfy their reporting obligations this year, agencies should mark the following deadlines in their calendars:

Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Report

December 4, 2015 – Agencies are required to submit their Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Reports to OIP for review.

For guidance on the requirements for completing the Annual FOIA Report, please see the Department’s Annual FOIA Report Handbook.

Fiscal Year 2016 Quarterly FOIA Reports

January 29, 2016 – Quarter 1 data is required to be posted.
April 29, 2016 – Quarter 2 data is required to be posted.
July 29, 2016 – Quarter 3 data is required to be posted.
October 28, 2016 – Quarter 4 data is required to be posted.

For guidance on the requirements for completing the FY 2016 Quarterly Reports, please see OIP’s guidance on quarterly reporting.

2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports

January 15, 2016 – The twenty-nine high-volume agencies noted in the 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines are required to submit their 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review.

February 5, 2016 – All other agencies are required to submit their 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review

March 14, 2016 – Agencies are required to post their 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports online.

For guidance on the requirements for completing the 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report, see OIP's 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines.

To help assist and prepare agencies for these reporting obligations, OIP will be hosting a refresher training on the Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Report and 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report. The details for this training are:

Refresher Training for FY 2015 Annual FOIA Reports and 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports
Department of Justice Conference Center
1st and N Street NE, Washington, DC

October 13, 2015, 1:00 – 3:00pm

Training is open to agency Chief FOIA Officers, Principal FOIA Contacts, and any other agency personnel who prepare Annual FOIA Reports and/or Chief FOIA Officer Reports (including appropriate IT staff)

If you are interested in attending this refresher training seminar, please email your name to OIP’s Acting Training Coordinator at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “Annual Report and Chief FOIA Officer Report Refresher Training.” Please note that registration is required to attend and that you will need a picture ID to enter the building. If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact OIP’s Acting Training Coordinator at (202) 514-3642.

If you have any questions regarding any of the deadlines noted above, or the requirements for completing any of the reports, please contact OIP’s FOIA Compliance Team at (202) 514-3642.

You can also find all of these reporting deadlines on the Reports page of OIP’s website.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Today, I was honored to join Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery at the National Congress of American Indian’s Tribal Leader Briefing to announce the Department of Justice’s FY 2015 Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS) grants. This year, the Department, through its three grantmaking components, is making 206 grants totaling more than $97 million to enhance and sustain crime prevention and intervention efforts in tribal communities. In 2015, the Office on Violence Against Women made 52 awards in the amount of $30.8 million to enhances the ability of tribes to respond to domestic and sexual violence, enhance the safety of American Indian and Alaska Native women, develop education and prevention strategies, and improve law enforcement and court systems to support tribal sovereignty.

A list of all 2015 CTAS awards is available at http://www.justice.gov/tribal/file/771691/download.

For more information on CTAS and other Department of Justice resources and information for tribal communities, visit the Justice Department’s Tribal Justice and Safety web site http://www.justice.gov/tribal/.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Attorney General's 2009 FOIA Guidelines directed agency Chief FOIA Officers to “review all aspects of their agencies’ FOIA administration” and to report annually to the Department of Justice on the efforts undertaken “to improve FOIA operations and facilitate information disclosure at their agencies.” In accordance with the 2009 FOIA Guidelines, OIP provides specific guidance each year to agencies on the content and timing of these reports and today we have issued the guidelines for agency 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports.

Since 2010, OIP’s guidelines for agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports have required agencies to examine the five key areas addressed in the 2009 FOIA Guidelines:

  1. Applying the Presumption of Openness,
  2. Ensuring that there are Effective Systems for Responding to Requests,
  3. Increasing Proactive Disclosures,
  4. Increasing the Utilization of Technology, and
  5. Improving Timeliness and Reducing any Backlogs.

Each year’s reporting guidelines build off the efforts and initiatives reported in the prior years. Our goal is to capture more advanced steps taken by agencies as their implementation of the FOIA Guidelines has matured. This year’s guidelines also continue to focus on certain areas where further improvements can be made.

The 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines maintain the streamlined reporting requirements introduced last year for agencies that receive a lower volume of FOIA requests, i.e. less than 1,000 incoming requests each year. For those agencies with more than 1,000 requests received annually, the guidelines remain quite comprehensive.

As in previous years, OIP has included new questions in the 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines, covering such topics as:

  • Plans for ensuring that a high percentage of agency FOIA professionals receive substantive FOIA training,
  • Steps to strengthen Requester Service Centers, FOIA Public Liaisons, and dispute resolution services,
  • Proper procedures for “still-interested” inquiries,
  • The role of FOIA professionals in posting records online, and
  • Training conducted for processing tools, such as new case management systems or eDiscovery tools.

OIP has once again identified the twenty-nine agencies that received more than 1,000 requests during the most recent fiscal year of available data and has listed them in this year’s guidelines as “high-volume” agencies. These agencies must submit their draft 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review by no later than January 15, 2016.

The remaining agencies must submit their draft reports to OIP for review by no later than February 5, 2016. To assist agencies in the completion of their reports, OIP has created separate templates for large- and small-agencies containing their specific questions from this year’s guidelines.

Additional details on the review and submission process are included in the Guidelines. OIP will once again host a refresher training seminar on the preparation of both the 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports and the Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Reports. The details for this training will be announced here on FOIA Post.

You can view the 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines, as well as all other guidance issued by OIP, on the Guidance page of our site.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

As Fiscal Year 2015 is quickly drawing to an end, agencies are hard at work processing more and more requests to close out the year strongly.  OIP encourages agencies to focus these last weeks of the fiscal year on their FOIA administration to help reduce any backlogs.  One of the main tools agencies use for tracking the efficiency of their FOIA workflows and ensuring the accuracy of their Annual FOIA Report is their case management system.       

A key component of President Obama's FOIA Memorandum is the direction to "use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government."  Over the past several years agencies have reported in their Chief FOIA Officer Reports widespread use of technology in receiving and tracking FOIA requests and preparing agency Annual FOIA Reports. 

Agencies currently use various case management systems for tracking and processing their FOIA requests, and each agency should ensure that they are using the system that best serves their particular FOIA needs.  As outlined in DOJ's Annual FOIA Report Handbook, agencies are ultimately responsible for the quality of their Annual FOIA Report data.  They should exercise due diligence in testing their systems to ensure accuracy for the benefit of both their year-end reports as well as workflow reports that they rely on during the year to manage their FOIA administration. 

At the Department of Justice, our components use a number of different methods and tools to track their FOIA requests tailored to their unique needs.  OIP has been working with EPA to develop enhancements to FOIAonline, the EPA’s multi-agency FOIA tracking system, that meet our specific needs, and we are pleased to announce that beginning in early 2016, OIP will be using FOIAonline as our case management system.  In addition to tracking the requests it processes and the Department’s administrative FOIA appeals, OIP will be using FOIAonline to prepare and validate the Department’s Annual FOIA Report. 

OIP's use of FOIAonline builds on the great work between OIP, EPA, and the partner agencies that has existed from the very beginning of FOIAonline.  OIP has worked closely with EPA and the FOIAonline partners from the start to ensure the system produces an accurate Annual FOIA Report, as well as to make sure that any enhancements function appropriately in compliance with the FOIA statute and DOJ guidance. 

OIP is excited to be working with EPA on the development of additional enhancements to FOIAonline and the future possibilities for how FOIAonline can assist agencies with their FOIA case management needs. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Courtesy of Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division

August 29 marked the 10-year anniversary of the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, devastating the Gulf Coast region.  Just a few weeks later, Hurricane Rita made landfall on the Texas shoreline. These two horrific storms ravaged coastal areas of the Southeastern United States, leaving over 1,800 people dead and destroying the homes and communities of thousands more.

In the decade since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, our nation has learned many critical lessons about how to more effectively respond to emergencies and disasters, and in particular, how to ensure that the needs of the whole community—including individuals with access and functional needs; those from religious, racial and ethnically diverse backgrounds; people with limited English proficiency, nonprofit organizations, businesses, academia, media outlets and all levels of government—are considered and included in all stages of disaster and emergency management activities, including planning, response and recovery.  While disasters and emergencies can affect all members of a community, in the absence of appropriate planning, they may result in more severe hardships for vulnerable populations.

In recent years, the federal government has developed National Planning Frameworks that outline the way all levels of government, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and the public at large can work together to build and sustain capabilities at each stage of emergency and disaster management, with an emphasis on engaging the whole community.  The National Response Framework and the National Disaster Recovery Framework incorporate civil rights nondiscrimination principles in their guidance and emphasize the importance of providing equal access to emergency related services.

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is dedicated to working, in conjunction with our sister agencies, to ensure that everyone has access to critical resources and services provided in the wake of disasters and to enforce statutory provisions which prohibit discrimination against vulnerable communities, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act, among others.  For example, in response to recent public health emergencies such as the spread of the H1N1 Influenza and the Ebola virus, the division has issued guidance concerning nondiscrimination requirements.  Please take time to read our recent article A Decade after Hurricane Katrina: Title VI Protections and Responsibilities in Emergencies and Disasters, available in the summer issue of Title VI Civil Rights News @FCS, which examines the federal government’s efforts to address racial and ethnic disparities during disaster preparation, response and recovery.  We must all remember that civil rights laws must always be complied with, even during emergency response and recovery activities. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Courtesy of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eve Hill of the Civil Rights  

 Catherine Hafsi      Catherine Hafsi Walker      Cherie Clark                                                 


Twenty-five years ago, our nation committed itself to the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is proud to play a critical role in enforcing the ADA, working towards a future in which all the doors are open to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, integration and economic self-sufficiency for persons with disabilities.  In honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, each month the department will spotlight efforts that are opening gateways to full participation and opportunity for people with disabilities.  This month, we spotlight the stories of Catherine Hafsi and Cherie Clark and how the department’s work enforcing the ADA is improving access to sidewalks, parking spaces, curb ramps and city facilities throughout Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Catherine Hafsi uses a walker.  When Ms. Hafsi was invited to attend the Cedar Rapids’ 25th ADA anniversary event at the federal courthouse, she was excited and thrilled.  On her way to the event, she encountered problems with the entrance door to the parking pay system of a municipal lot.  Specifically, she had difficulty keeping the door open while maneuvering her walker through the door in order to pay for parking.  Ms. Hafsi’s problem is not uncommon in Cedar Rapids.  She noted that some parking pay systems stations have heavy entrance doors that make it almost impossible for people with disabilities to pay for parking at parking facilities.

Ms. Hafsi also encountered issues with sidewalks when she visited the Fair Housing Office at the Veteran’s Memorial Building.  In order to access the sidewalk in front of the Veteran’s Memorial Building, Ms. Hafsi had to walk in the street with her walker and risk her safety because there were no accessible curb ramps.

Cherie Clark, uses a wheelchair and walker, and has also encountered several accessibility issues with sidewalks and entrances to city facilities in Cedar Rapids.  When Ms. Clark visits the Cedar Rapids Public Library, which she normally does four to five times per month, the automatic doors to the library entrance do not work properly and the toilet room doors are very heavy and difficult to operate.  Both Ms. Hafsi and Ms. Clark experienced similar issues with inaccessible sidewalks, curb ramps, entrances to facilities, and inaccessible parking in Cedar Rapids.

Over the next years, experiences like Ms. Hafsi’s and Ms. Clark’s will become a thing of the past.  Cedar Rapids and the Justice Department have reached an agreement under Project Civic Access (PCA), the department’s wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the ADA.  One of the hallmarks of the agreement is the requirement that Cedar Rapids install, repair or replace thousands of sidewalks and curb ramps throughout the city to bring them into compliance with current ADA standards.

Under this agreement, Cedar Rapids will ensure that its services, programs and activities are fully accessible to people with disabilities.  Cedar Rapids will also target its city parking lots and toilet rooms to make sure that they are accessible to persons with disabilities and enhance accessibility throughout the city’s park system.

Over the past 15 years, nearly 220 communities have signed agreements with the Department of Justice to ensure that their citizens with disabilities enjoy the same services, programs and activities that all others enjoy.  For more information about the ADA, today’s agreement, the Project Civic Access initiative, or the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for state and local governments, individuals may access the ADA Web page at http://www.ada.gov/civicac.htm or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Courtesy of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eve Hill of the Civil Rights Division

Joe Cordova

Twenty-five years ago, our nation committed itself to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities--through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division is proud to play a critical role in enforcing the ADA, working towards a future in which all the doors are open to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, integration and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.  In honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, each month the Department of Justice will spotlight efforts that are opening gateways to full participation and opportunity for people with disabilities.

This month, we spotlight the positive impact of the Department of Justice’s landmark ADA settlement agreement with Wells Fargo & Company.  The May 2011 settlement agreement, brought under title III of the ADA, ensures that persons with disabilities are not denied financial services or otherwise discriminated against by Wells Fargo.  Wells Fargo owns or operates almost 10,000 retail stores and 12,000 ATMs located throughout the United States.  Wells Fargo offers a wide variety of financial services, including personal and commercial banking, mortgages, brokerage, insurance, and investments.  The department initiated its investigation after receiving complaints filed by numerous individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities.  Prior to the May 2011 settlement agreement, Wells Fargo refused to accept Video Relay Service calls and directed deaf and hard of hearing customers to call the Wells Fargo TDD/TTY number which Wells Fargo did not answer.  The department also received a variety of other complaints alleging ADA violations by Wells Fargo, including the failure to provide financial documents to people who are blind or have low vision in alternate formats (e.g., Braille or large print), the failure to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services upon request for in-person meetings between Wells Fargo staff and individuals who are deaf, and the failure to remove barriers to access for individuals with mobility disabilities.  The settlement agreement, which expires on July 31, 2016, provides for resolution of all complaints alleging violations of the ADA in connection with Wells Fargo's financial services and retail facilities.

For the past ten years, Joe Cordova has not been able to fully access Wells Fargo’s website because he is blind.  Mr. Cordova, who lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, has a mortgage with Wells Fargo and could not make online mortgage payments because the payment link on Wells Fargo’s website was not accessible.  Mr. Cordova requested assistance from Wells Fargo, but each month they directed him to submit his payment by telephone which required a $25.00 service fee.  Among other reasons, Mr. Cordova wanted to make his mortgage payments online to avoid the $25.00 service fee.  Under the settlement agreement, Wells Fargo made its www.wellsfargo.com website accessible to customers with disabilities so that customers who are blind or have low vision can make payments and conduct other bank business online.  The May 2011 settlement agreement also requires that Wells Fargo provide customers, potential customers and their companions who are blind or have low vision with appropriate auxiliary aids and services, and to provide documents in alternate formats, where necessary to ensure effective communication.

Mr. Cordova is just one of the many Wells Fargo customers who have gained greater access to Wells Fargo’s financial services through the Department’s May 2011 settlement agreement.  For more information about the ADA, visit www.ada.gov.  Those interested in finding out more about the ADA may also call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov.  ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

OIP offers a number of FOIA training opportunities throughout the year as a part of our responsibility to encourage agency compliance with the FOIA. For Fiscal Year 2016, the dates and topics for our regularly scheduled training sessions are:

Introduction to the FOIA
April 26, 2016

The FOIA for Attorneys and Access Professionals
November 3-4, 2015
January 26-27, 2016
April 12-13, 2016
July 12-13, 2016

Advanced FOIA Seminar
May 10, 2016

FOIA Litigation Seminar
October 19, 2015

This year, OIP is offering two new courses – a FOIA Processing Workshop and a program entitled Continuing FOIA Education. The FOIA Processing Workshop is a half-day program designed to take attendees through the steps of processing a FOIA request one-on-one in a small class setting. The Continuing FOIA Education course is designed as a program for experienced FOIA professionals with lectures on new or recent developments in FOIA administration as well as an update on recent FOIA court decisions. The dates for these new course offerings are:

FOIA Processing Workshop
February 17, 2016

Continuing FOIA Education
June 1, 2016

All of these seminars will be held in Washington DC, and are open to all federal government employees. Information about registration, general topics covered, and class sizes for each course are available on the Training page of our site. The Training page also includes descriptions of each course, general topics covered, and the intended audience.

In addition to these scheduled training programs, OIP also offers various other training programs and workshops throughout the year such as our Best Practices Workshop series and our refresher training on the preparation of Agency Annual FOIA and Chief FOIA Officer Reports. Details on all of our training opportunities will always be announced here on FOIA Post and through OIP’s Twitter account, @FOIAPost.

To register for any of the training seminars listed above, please email your name to OIP's Training Staff at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov. In the subject line of your email, please specify the name of the course and the date you wish to attend the training. If registering multiple individuals, please include email addresses for each individual in the registration message. Once you are registered, you will be sent a confirmation email with the location of the training. Any questions regarding these training opportunities may also be directed to OIP’s Training Staff at (202) 514-FOIA (3642).

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Courtesy of Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division

Fifteen years ago, in August of 2000, President Clinton signed Executive Order 13166, “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency.”  The Executive Order made clear that federal agencies, like federally-assisted state and local governments, must ensure meaningful access for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP).  The federal government engages with the public in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, collecting our tax returns, providing social security benefits, conducting law enforcement activities and educating the public about public health issues or how to prepare for emergencies.  We need to make sure that individuals with a limited ability to speak, read, write or understand English can communicate with federal personnel and participate in these and other federally conducted programs.  In the Civil Rights Division, we have seen first-hand, through our enforcement and litigation efforts, the severe results that can occur when LEP individuals are denied the language access services that they need.

Despite the critical need for language access, many federal agencies have faced challenges in fully implementing the mandate of Executive Order 13166.  In 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on language access efforts across the government, and highlighted the need for a more structured approach towards ensuring language access.  Following the release of the 2010 GAO report, then-Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memorandum to the heads of all federal agencies, stating, among other things: “Whether in an emergency or in the course of routine business matters, the success of government efforts to effectively communicate with members of the public depends on the widespread and nondiscriminatory availability of effective, timely, and vital information.”  The Attorney General directed agencies to “ensure that agency staff can competently identify LEP contact situations and take the necessary steps to provide meaningful access.”

Many federal agencies have heeded the Attorney General’s call to action, and in recent years, federal agencies have increased their efforts to ensure that LEP individuals have meaningful access to the services they provide.  Recently, the Civil Rights Division’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section partnered with several other agencies and federal partners—including the Social Security Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service – to create an exciting new video training series for federal employees regarding language access.  The interagency group recognized that whether we are Justice Department prosecutors, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Inspectors, FEMA field staff triaging needs after a natural disaster, SSA benefits counselors, immigration court staff or federal law enforcement, there is greater work that can be done to ensure our workforce is living up to the promise of President Clinton’s Executive Order. 

The videos consist of a series of engaging, real-life scenarios inspired by both emergency and routine events that federal government staff has faced over the years: A FEMA center in the aftermath of a disaster; a benefits counselor attempting to respond to a social security claimant’s questions; an IRS official attempting to communicate with an LEP taxpayer, and ICE agents attempting to engage with an LEP resident in a local community.  The scenarios focus on frequently asked questions:  How do you determine whether a person is LEP?  How do you identify an LEP person’s language?  What reliable language assistance options are available?  What are some dos and don’ts? 

These videos are not just useful for federal, agencies, though.  Accompanied by a series of helpful guides and resources, including demographic maps illustrating language groups across the country, tips sheets on choosing appropriate language assistance, and best practices when working with LEP individuals and interpreters, these videos are useful tools to assist us all in achieving a consistent and thoughtful language access response in the workplace.  All of these resources can be found at www.lep.gov.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Justice Department Announces First-Ever Second Chance FellowAttorney General Lynch attends Federal Interagency Reentry Council Meeting

Courtesy of Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch

Just days before my visit to Goucher College’s Prison Education Partnership at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, I had the honor of chairing my first meeting of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council – a group comprised of representatives from more than 20 federal agencies that works to align and advance reentry efforts across the federal government with an overarching aim to not only reduce recidivism and high correctional costs, but also to improve public health, child welfare, employment, education, housing and other key reintegration outcomes.  It was a privilege to sit beside my colleagues from across the government to discuss the pressing issues before us.  And given President Obama’s recent commutations and his visit to El Reno Federal Correctional Institution to highlight these critical issues, the meeting provided a timely opportunity for us to share information about recent accomplishments, and more importantly, discuss upcoming policy considerations.

Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons, and over 11 million cycle through local jails.  In addition, a broader population – approximately one in three U.S. adults – has an arrest record, mostly for relatively minor, non-violent offenses, and sometimes as a result of crimes committed decades in the past.  The long-term – sometimes lifetime – impact of a criminal record will keep many of these people from obtaining employment, accessing housing, higher education, loans, and credit – even if they have paid their debt to society, turned their lives around, and demonstrated that they are unlikely to reoffend.  At the same time, research sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) shows that individuals who stay out of trouble for just a few years after an arrest are largely indistinguishable from the general population in terms of their likelihood of committing a crime.  Further, participation in pro-social behaviors like employment, education and civic engagement – the very things that people with criminal records are often barred from participating in – actually reduce recidivism. 

As a lifelong prosecutor, I understand how important it is to aggressively prosecute criminal behavior as a means of keeping our communities safe.  But I also recognize that prosecution is only one aspect of a comprehensive justice system – particularly when nearly every person behind bars will one day come home.  In order to truly make our communities safer, we must make sure that people who have served their time are able to fully and productively engage in our society – whether through education or employment or some other constructive means. 

Listening to my colleagues on the Reentry Council discuss their commitment to this mission and their dedication to this cause makes me confident that we will continue to make progress.  For example, Labor Secretary Tom Perez briefed the Reentry Council on DOL’s new Linking Employment Activities Pre-release (LEAP) grants, which support the development and implementation of specialized American Job Centers inside the correctional facility that directly connect local inmates to the full-service AJC within their community.  Providing incarcerated individuals with a range of workforce services while they transition out of local correctional facilities better prepares them to reenter the workforce and improves their opportunities for finding suitable employment immediately upon release.   

Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet of the Small Business Administration updated the Council on SBA’s efforts to increase access to their Microloan Program.  SBA published a final rule for the Microloan Program that provides more flexibility to SBA non-profit intermediaries and expands the pool of microloan recipients.  The change will make small businesses that have an owner who is currently on probation or parole eligible for microloan programs, aiding individuals who face significant barriers to traditional employment as they seek to reenter the workforce. 

During the meeting, I had the distinct pleasure of announcing Daryl Atkinson as DOJ’s first-ever Second Chance Fellow.  This position was designed to bring in a person with expertise as a leader in the criminal justice field – and as a formerly incarcerated individual.  Recognizing that many of those directly impacted by the criminal justice system hold significant insight into reforming the justice system, the Bureau of Justice Assistance – led by Director Denise O’Donnell – released a competitive solicitation that led to Daryl’s selection.

Federal Interagency Reentry Council Meeting

Daryl has a remarkable story.  In 1996, Daryl served 40 months in prison after pleading guilty to a first-time non-violent drug crime – and when he was released, he faced a series of collateral consequences.  He lost his driver’s license, making it difficult for him to secure employment.  He was barred from receiving federal financial student aid, which presented obstacles to furthering his education.  And he was unable to vote in his home state of Alabama, restricting his ability to participate in the civic life of his community.  But through all of these obstacles and challenges, Daryl persevered – earning a bachelor’s degree and then a law degree, and ultimately rising to become a Senior Staff Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice where he focuses on criminal justice reform issues, particularly removing the legal barriers triggered by contact with the criminal justice system. 

Last year, Daryl was recognized by the White House as a “Reentry and Employment Champion of Change.”  Then-Attorney General Eric Holder recognized Daryl’s transformative journey in his remarks when he said “Daryl overcame his own involvement with the criminal justice system and has since worked to build a better future not only for himself – but for countless others who deserve a second chance.”  And now, Daryl will work with us, as a colleague to the Reentry Council, as an advisor to the BJA Second Chance programs, and as a conduit to engage the broader justice-involved population so that DOJ and the Administration are hearing from all stakeholders as we move forward in strengthening our nation and empowering our communities.

Although the path ahead of us is far from easy, there is momentum – across federal agencies, across political parties, and across the United States – to reform our criminal justice system and give people a legitimate chance to earn their way back and lead law-abiding lives.  Working with my colleagues, I look forward to continuing the good work of the Reentry Council and taking concrete steps to achieve the President’s vision for meaningful criminal justice reform.

This post can also be found on the Huffington Post Blog.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Update: This post has been updated with information regarding the workshop on Self-Assessments and Internal Reviews.

As a part of the United States’ Second Open Government National Action Plan commitment to further modernize FOIA, in 2014 OIP launched the Best Practices Workshop series as a way to share and leverage successes in FOIA administration across the government. Today we are announcing details for the second slate of topics and workshops in this series.

Each workshop in the series focuses on a specific topical area and will include a panel of representatives that will share their success stories and strategies. For example, some of the topics covered in the first series of workshops included panels on reducing backlogs, proactive disclosures, and implementing technology in FOIA administration. The new workshop topics were selected based on feedback solicited from both federal agencies and the public. This series continues to be an opportunity for professionals at every level of the FOIA process to learn from one another and to leverage the successes of other agencies for their own organizations.

The workshops are open to all agency FOIA professionals and interested personnel. We will also continue to invite representatives from civil society and the public to participate in certain workshops. The dates, locations, and topics for each workshop are:

Best Practices for Small Agencies
August 26, 2015, 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Self-Assessments and Internal Reviews
October 6, 2015, 10:00 am to 12 noon - POSTPONED, NEW DATE TO BE ANNOUNCED

Reducing Backlogs and Improving Timeliness
December 8, 2015, 10:00 am to 12 noon – Robert F. Kennedy Building

Best Practices from the Requester’s Perspective
March 16, 2016, 10:00 am to 12 noon

FOIA Training Programs
May 25, 2016, 10:00 am to 12 noon

All workshops unless otherwise indicated will be held at the Department of Justice’s Conference Center near 1st and N Street NE. Registration for all workshops is required for attendance and you will need a picture ID to enter the designated Department facility for any of these workshops.

The August, October, December, and May workshops will feature different panels of agency representatives. The March workshop will feature a panel of civil society and requester community representatives to highlight some of the agency best practices they have experienced while working through the FOIA process.

After each event, the best practices discussed by the panel, as well as other resources, will be added to the Best Practices Workshop Series page of our website as a resource for all agencies and interested individuals. Information, best practices, and resources from the first slate of workshops is also available on this page as well.

If you are interested in attending any of these events, you can register by emailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “[Month] Best Practices Workshop.” If registering multiple individuals, please include the email addresses of all registrants. If you have any questions regarding the series, please contact OIP’s Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

As we hold these workshops, we continue to invite your suggestions on future meeting topics and potential panelists.  If you would like to participate as a panelist or recommend someone for any of the above scheduled workshops, please email us at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “Best Practices Workshop Suggestion.”

FOIA Post, Open Government
Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Courtesy of Director Ronald L. Davis of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

President Obama discusses the Task Force on 21st Century PolicingI can recall the pride of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing when the 11 outstanding members handed the final report to the president on May 18, 2015.  The smiles and expressions on their faces while sitting in the White House spoke volumes about their accomplishment.  That pride, however, was not simply because they delivered a report; it was also because the report represented a defining moment in American policing and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine policing in a democratic society—a goal every member of the task force is committed to seeing through well beyond the completion of the report.

Their pride grew even stronger when the president sat down with the task force and began to discuss the importance of the recommendations and the report’s potential transformative impact on the field.  The president made it clear that the report would not sit on a shelf, but would serve as a catalyst for the type of police reform needed in communities across the country.

On July 23, the White House and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) took a notable step toward that goal and co-hosted a forum on the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.  More than 150 participants—including representatives from law enforcement, elected officials and community partners representing more than 40 cities—attended the event.  Throughout the full-day forum, senior administration officials joined attendees to discuss and share strategies for implementing the recommendations outlined in the task force report, and developed ideas that police and their communities across the country can use to enhance public safety while building trust.

Police chiefs, sheriffs, mayors, community leaders and other law enforcement professionals rolled up their sleeves to identify best practices and document implementation strategies to be included in a forthcoming publication that will serve as a national playbook for implementing the recommendations in the final task force report.  The collaborations I witnessed were not merely impressive—they were truly inspiring.

I have often said that advancement of community policing is the key strategy for improving public safety and security in this nation, and if the collaboration and strategizing I observed yesterday is any indication of what the future holds, we are moving in the right direction.  But there is still work to be done.

The COPS Office has already started to meet the challenges put forth by the task force and to implement recommendations outlined in the final report.  The COPS Office will continue to build community policing capacity and help make the streets of America safer through its hiring grants.  Our grants will also support programs aimed at building trust, reducing bias and helping law enforcement transform their agencies into departments that live up to the expectations of their communities.

To further assist the field in implementing the task force recommendations, the COPS Office has announced the creation of a new section within the COPS Office—the Policing Practices and Accountability Section—which will work closely with practitioners and researchers to provide technical assistance, identify industry best practices, provide crisis response services and develop strategies to best implement the recommendations in the field.Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch delivers remarks at the White House Community Policing Forum.

But we know that true change can only come from the field.  The COPS Office is committed to helping the field advance the field.

We are therefore asking you to answer the president’s call to action and use your leadership skills to advance the task force recommendations.  And as you do this work, please tell us how you are implementing the recommendations.  We are eager to learn what you are doing in your communities and to find out how your agency is moving the law enforcement profession forward—whether it’s a new department policy designed to encourage citizen engagement, a social media tool that helps gauge community sentiment or solve crimes, a training program intended to reduce implicit bias or a targeted enforcement effort that has been effective in reducing crime while maintaining civic involvement.

Please visit the task force’s new website and tell us about your efforts.

Thank you!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Since 2010, agency Chief FOIA Officers have submitted to the Department of Justice an annual report detailing all of their agency’s efforts in implementing President Obama’s and Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Memoranda. These Chief FOIA Officer Reports have served as a valuable resource for agencies to describe the various initiatives undertaken to improve their administration of the FOIA.  With the completion of agencies’ 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports this past Sunshine Week, today OIP releases its summary and assessment of these reports and the progress made in implementing Attorney General Holder’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines.

Similar to last year, this year’s summary is broken down into five parts detailing the efforts of agencies in each of the five key areas from Attorney General Holder’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines:

  • Applying the Presumption of Openness,
  • Having Effective Systems for Responding to Requests,
  • Making Information Available Proactively,
  • Utilizing Technology, and
  • Reducing Backlogs and Improving Timeliness.

Agencies and the public are encouraged to read both OIP’s summary and each agency’s individual report to learn more about the various efforts and steps taken over the last reporting year to improve the administration of the FOIA across the government.

In addition to the summary, OIP’s 2015 assessment once again provides a visual snapshot of agency efforts in several key areas of FOIA administration. The assessment includes all of the enhanced features introduced last year, including an expanded five-step scoring system, overall scores for each assessed section, and the inclusion of a detailed methodology. The full assessment is provided in both an open format and in PDF.

As announced in September 2014, a significant change for agency 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports is the separate reporting requirements for large and small volume FOIA agencies. This difference is incorporated into the 2015 assessment so that the milestones are tailored to the distinctive FOIA processes at different size agencies.

Finally, as a part of the 2015 summary and assessment, OIP has once again included guidance based on our review of the 2015 reports to assist agencies in making further improvements in the years ahead.

Based on our review of agency 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports, and as stated in OIP’s summary and assessment, “agencies have persevered through a difficult year of tight resources and ever-increasing demands to continue improving their administration of the FOIA through various initiatives connected to the five key areas of Attorney General Holder's 2009 FOIA Guidelines.” At the same time, the level of success achieved by agencies in these efforts varies and there is still work to be done. OIP’s yearly assessment is intended to serve as a vehicle to both recognize agency successes and to identify areas where further improvement can be made.

You can read OIP’s 2015 Summary and Assessment of Agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports on our Reports page alongside previous summaries and assessments. OIP’s guidance for further improvement based on our review of agency 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports is available as a part of this year’s summary as well as on our Guidance page.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Courtesy of Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery

Today, as we observe Military Consumer Protection Day, I want to highlight the resources available to help servicemembers and veterans protect themselves against fraud and make informed decisions about managing their money.  Protecting the rights and interests of the brave men and women of our military is a priority for the Department of Justice.  The Department endeavors to protect the health, safety, and economic security of servicemembers and veterans through criminal prosecutions and civil enforcement actions, including cases that help recoup money lost through fraud, loan defaults, and the abuse of federal funds.  We work closely with the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other agencies to identify and address the greatest threats to members of the military and veterans as consumers.  And U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country have established strong working relationships with military installations in their districts, collaborating with JAG Corps officers and others.

Military Consumer Protection Day also gives us an opportunity to focus on the federal and state laws directed at safeguarding the rights of servicemembers and veterans.   The Department has developed enforcement toolkits for U.S. Attorneys, State Attorneys General, and Judge Advocates detailing the specialized laws and resources available to respond to consumer fraud targeted at servicemembers, veterans and their families.  One of those laws is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which eases financial burdens on servicemembers by providing relief from credit obligations and court proceedings while they are on active duty.  It also postpones, suspends, terminates, or reduces the amount of certain civil obligations – including interest rates – for members of the armed forces.

We want to make sure servicemembers know about these protections – and know how to take advantage of them if they encounter illegal practices.  The Department’s recent successes in enforcing the SCRA demonstrate the breadth and importance of the rights it creates.  For example, the SCRA can protect servicemembers facing problems related to –

Student Loans: In United States v. Sallie Mae, Inc., 77,795 servicemembers will receive $60 million in compensation for having been charged excess interest on their student loans.  The settlement has also led the Department of Education to streamline the process under which servicemembers can obtain the interest rate benefit for their government-owned and guaranteed student loans.

Auto Repossession:  In United States v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc.,  Santander is required to pay over $10 million to more than 1,100 SCRA-protected servicemembers whose motor vehicles were repossessed unlawfully between January 2008 and February 2015.

Storage Auctions: In United States v. Horoy, Inc. d/b/a/ Across Town Movers, the consent order requires the defendants to pay $169,900 in damages to ten servicemembers for unlawfully auctioning off their stored goods without obtaining court orders, as required by the SCRA.

Mortgage Foreclosures: In the first wave of SCRA payments to go out under the National Mortgage Settlement, from JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and GMAC Mortgage, 952 servicemembers are eligible to receive over $123 million for non-judicial foreclosures.  The banks will repair any negative credit report entries related to the allegedly wrongful foreclosures and will not pursue any remaining amounts owed under the mortgages. This joint federal-state agreement includes expanded protections for servicemembers.

The Department’s recently created Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative is further strengthening our comprehensive legal support and protection network for servicemembers, veterans and their families, through enforcement, education and access to justice. We’ll maintain an active website of resources, and perform outreach at military installations throughout the country – such as our participation in Military Consumer Protection Day activities at Joint Base McGuire/Dix/Lakehurst in New Jersey today.

We encourage servicemembers and veterans to be proactive in rooting out consumer fraud as well.  If you think your rights under the SCRA or other statutes  have been violated, or if you think there is a fraud scheme targeting servicemembers in your area, please reach out to your commander or legal services on your base.

The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative and Military Consumer Protection Day are two examples of ways the U.S. government helps our men and women in uniform give their full attention to their military and professional responsibilities without adverse consequences for themselves or their families. Enhancing support for consumer protections will allow servicemembers to focus on their work safeguarding the country and help veterans live securely in the country they have sacrificed so much to protect and defend. 

Find detailed information about servicemembers’ and veterans’ consumer rights at http://www.military.ncpw.gov/ and www.servicemembers.gov.

Friday, July 10, 2015

This past Fourth of July marked the 49th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which as President Obama declared, "is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government."  In celebration of this milestone in the history of this important law, today, the Department of Justice is pleased to announce the launch of a new pilot program at seven agencies designed to test the feasibility of posting online FOIA responses so that they are available not just to the individual requester, but to the general public as well.  

The significance of the FOIA was emphasized from the very beginning with Attorney General Clark’s June 1967 memorandum on the implementation of the FOIA.  Issued to executive departments and agencies one month before the law took effect, the Attorney General declared:

“If the government is to be truly of, by, and for the people, the people must know in detail the activities of government.  Nothing so diminishes democracy as secrecy.  Self-government, the maximum participation of the citizenry in affairs of state, is meaningful only with an informed public.”

During the pilot, we seek to answer many important questions, including: costs associated with such a policy, effect on staff time required to process requests, effect on interactions with government stakeholders, and the justification for exceptions to such a policy, such as for personal privacy.  For privacy reasons, participating agencies will not post online responses to requests in which individuals seek access to information about themselves.

The agencies participating in the pilot are the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and components or offices of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, and the National Archives and Records Administration, with OIP leading the effort.

The results of this six-month pilot program will be made available to the public, and we intend to be transparent about the pilots and their implementation by participating agencies. We also invite the public’s feedback as we explore this proposed policy shift, and welcome innovative ideas and suggestions for overcoming the implementation challenges. Comments should be sent to OIP at ReleaseToAll@usdoj.gov.


FOIA Post, FOIA Update
Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Courtesy of Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division

In 2000, Congress expanded the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act (PAIMI Act) to give federally-funded protection and advocacy systems (P&As) authority to investigate possible abuse or neglect occurring in the community, including in facilities, like schools, that provide services to people with mental illness. Congress’ goal in expanding the PAIMI Act was to fully protect individuals with mental illness.  Approximately 13.3 percent of school-age children nationwide receive treatment for a serious mental, behavioral or emotional disorder.  Researchers have identified schools as a critical location for screening and support services for children with mental health disabilities.  As a result, the national network of P&As plays a significant role in ensuring compliance with both PAIMI and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

This month, the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services filed a statement of interest in federal court in the case Disability Rights New York v. North Colonie Board of Education arguing that the PAIMI Act should be enforced to protect students with mental illness from abuse or neglect in public schools.  Specifically, the statement of interest argues that federal law authorizes Disability Rights New York (DRNY), a designated P&A in New York State, to investigate complaints about treatment of students with disabilities at New York State schools.  DRNY received six complaints about possible neglect, which led them to open an investigation.  As the departments noted in their statement of interest, it is not possible for the Justice Department to investigate every claim of abuse or neglect, but P&As are able to investigate many more PAIMI violations and often represent individuals in administrative hearings and in federal court to challenge abuse or neglect, including unnecessary seclusion or restraint.

The statement of interest highlights the critical role that P&As play in defending the rights of individuals with mental illness and all persons with disabilities, especially when it comes to children.  These children, who spend most of their day under the care and supervision of schools, are among the most vulnerable populations served by P&As and schools play an incredibly important role in screening and providing support services for children with mental illness.  However, if programs are not properly administered, children may be placed at risk.  As the statement of interest argues, the ability of P&As to monitor and investigate allegations of possible harm to children with mental illness in local schools is crucial to the system of protections against abuse and neglect that Congress created when it passed the PAIMI Act. 

The department’s filing in Disability Rights New York v. North Colonie Board of Education is just one example of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s efforts, especially as it comes to protecting students with mental illness from abuse or neglect in public schools. The division works to achieve equal opportunity for people with disabilities in the United States by implementing the ADA and other statutes.  The division’s enforcement, regulatory, coordination, and technical assistance activities, combined with an innovative mediation program and a robust technical assistance program, provide a cost-effective and dynamic approach for carrying out the ADA's mandates.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

This week, the Privacy Office at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) became the first federal agency to release a FOIA mobile application. You can read about the features of the new app in a post on DHS’ blog from their Chief Privacy Officer, Karen Neuman which is also reprinted below. OIP applauds the ingenuity of DHS as they implement innovative approaches to FOIA administration.

Submit a FOIA request anytime, anywhere

By: Karen Neuman, Chief Privacy Officer

I am pleased to announce the release of a new mobile application to further simplify and enhance the process for submitting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The Department of Homeland Security is committed to transparency and accountability and the eFOIA app is the latest in a series of efforts that the DHS Privacy Office has taken to help modernize FOIA processes and improve the customer experience. In fact, this is the first FOIA mobile app in the entire Federal Government.

Using their mobile devices, requesters can now submit requests and check the status of existing requests anyplace, anytime.

Key features of the new eFOIA app will allow users to:

  • Submit a FOIA request to any DHS Component
  • Check the status of FOIA requests
  • Access all of the content on the FOIA website, including the FOIA Library
  • Receive updates, changes to events--such as stakeholder meetings/conference calls held by the Department, and recently published documents

DHS receives the largest number of FOIA requests of any federal agency, and produces the largest number of responses. We are continually working to improve our FOIA program by deploying advanced technology both for submitting and processing requests. These efforts include an improved online FOIA submission form, as well as a recently launched online check status capability.

As a result of these efforts, we are starting to see a steady reduction in the FOIA backlog. Since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2015, DHS has reduced its FOIA backlog by 20 percent, from 103,480 to 82,324 as of July 1, 2015.

The DHS Privacy Office created the eFOIA app in partnership with the DHS Office of the Chief Information Officer.

The free app is currently available for all Apple and Android devices.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

President Obama and Attorney General Holder emphasized in their FOIA Memoranda the importance of agencies working with FOIA requesters “in a spirit of cooperation.”  A key element of that cooperation is establishing and maintaining good communication with requesters.  In 2010, before the first anniversary of the issuance of Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines, the Office of Information Policy (OIP) issued guidance entitled The Importance of Good Communication with FOIA Requesters.  That guidance addressed several ways in which agencies could improve their communication practices. 

One of the topics addressed in OIP’s 2010 guidance was the use of  what is known as a “still-interested” inquiry, i.e., when an agency asks a requester whether he or she remains interested in the continued processing of their request.  OIP’s 2010 guidance advised agencies to be “mindful of the manner in which such inquiries are made,” and to afford requesters a reasonable amount of time to indicate their continued interest.

Today, OIP has released new guidance designed to further improve the way “still-interested” inquiries are utilized by agencies.  As noted in this new guidance:

“While use of ‘still-interested’ inquiries is an understandable way to help ensure that agency resources are appropriately spent processing requests for records where the requester remains interested in receiving the documents, it is equally important that requesters are not in any way disadvantaged by their use.”

The new guidance outlines a series of procedures that agencies should use when inquiring whether a requester remains interested in the continued processing of his or her request. 

These include:

  • Reasonable Grounds to Make “Still-Interested” Inquiry in the First Instance – any “still-interested” inquiry should be limited to those situations where the agency has a reasonable basis to conclude that  the  requester’s interest in the records may have changed;
  • Limiting the Number of Times “Still-Interested” Inquiries are Made – absent good cause, agencies should not inquire more than once whether a requester is still interested in the request;
  • Using Requester’s Preferred Method of Communicating – email or telephone are often the most efficient ways to communicate with requesters and should be used as the default;
  • Providing Requesters with a Reasonable Amount of Time and Method to Respond to “Still-Interested” Inquiries – the time period to allow requesters to respond to “still-interested” inquiries should be no shorter than thirty (30) working days and a simple response over the telephone, a reply to an email, or the checking of a box on a self-addressed form are all examples of easy methods that agencies can make available to requesters so that they can most readily respond to the inquiry; and
  • Ensuring Requesters are Not Disadvantaged – in the event  a requester responds to a “still-interested” inquiry within a reasonable time after the deadline has passed, agencies should simply reopen the request and place it back into the agency’s queue in the same position it would have been had the “still-interested” inquiry not been sent.

Agencies should review their procedures on the use of “still-interested” inquiries to ensure they are in conformity with this new guidance.  OIP has prepared an implementation checklist to assist agencies in doing so. 

The full text of the guidance and its accompanying checklist, along with all other guidance issued by OIP, is available on our guidance page.   

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division

Forty-one years ago, the Supreme Court recognized in Lau v. Nichols that:“Basic English skills are at the very core of what  public schools teach.  Imposition of a requirement that, before a child can effectively participate in the educational program, he must already have acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education.”  That recognition informed the court’s landmark holding that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), and its implementing regulations and guidance, require schools that receive federal financial assistance to take affirmative steps to ensure that English learner (EL) students can meaningfully participate in their educational programs.  Consistent with Lau’s holding, Congress enacted the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), requiring both local and state educational agencies to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by EL students in instructional programs. 

In the years since the Supreme Court decided Lau and Congress enacted the EEOA, many school districts and states across the country have made significant strides in providing necessary services and supports to EL students and to Limited English Proficient (LEP) families.  And the Department of Justice has promoted state and district compliance with these laws through investigations and enforcement actions.  Just this week, the department secured significant relief for the more than 16,000 EL students in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) when the court approved the modified consent decree (MCD) jointly filed by all parties in the historic Lau case.  The MCD aims to address compliance problems identified by the department and the private plaintiffs through their active monitoring of SFUSD’s implementation of a 2008 court order.

This ground-breaking MCD requires SFUSD to implement comprehensive measures to ensure that all EL students in its 105 regular education schools and five court and county (i.e., serving detained and incarcerated students) schools have equal educational opportunities, and that Limited English Proficient (LEP) families can participate meaningfully in the education of their children.  The MCD requires SFUSD to:

  • promptly identify, assess and place EL students in effective EL programs;

  • offer a range of EL programs and services to meet the needs of all EL students, including newcomers, students with disabilities and long-term EL students;

  • expand translation and interpreter services for LEP families;

  • adequately train employees who serve EL students so that they can fulfill their roles; and

  • conduct robust monitoring.

The MCD also protects the educational rights of the district’s most at-risk and vulnerable EL students who are learning in alternative education or juvenile justice settings.

The court’s approval of this significant consent decree furthers the promise of Lau: that all students, no matter their language background, have access to a high-quality education.  The department looks forward to working with SFUSD, its students, the private plaintiffs, and the community to implement the MCD to ensure that EL students and LEP families are welcomed and supported in all aspects of their educational experiences. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Courtesy of Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division

There are almost 90,000 units of state and local governments, each of which plays a fundamental role in the lives of its residents.  Not only do these governmental entities provide a wide array of programs, services, and activities to their residents, they also rely on their residents to participate in civic activities by voting, serving on advisory boards, running for office, volunteering in schools and countless other activities.  In the United States, more than 55 million Americans—18% of our population—have disabilities.  This number includes many people who became disabled while serving in the military.  And, by the year 2030, approximately 71.5 million baby boomers will be over age 65 and may need services and surroundings that meet their age-related physical needs.  And they, like all Ameri­cans, want to fully and meaningfully participate in all their state and local government has to offer.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.  Under Title II of the ADA, people with disabilities are entitled to all of the rights, privileges, advan­tages and opportunities that others have when participating in civic activities.

To help state and local governments understand how the ADA applies to their particular programs, services and activities, the department has published a new technical assistance document, ADA Update: A Primer for State and Local Governments.  This 16-page illustrated guide provides practical, non-legal information that addresses Title II’s general nondiscrimination requirements, such as provisions relating to program accessibility, service animals, communicating with people with disabilities, power-driven mobility devices and policies and procedures.  The document also addresses how the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design apply to existing buildings and facilities, new construction and alterations.  In addition to this primer, the department helps state and local governments through Project Civic Access—a wide-ranging initiative to ensure that cities, towns and counties throughout the country comply with the ADA.

This new document is available on the department’s ADA Website at http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleII_2010/title_ii_primer.html.  Also available on the ADA Website are a variety of additional technical assistance materials specifically for State and local governments addressing such topics as voting, emergency management, and community integration.  Individuals who have questions about this document, the requirements of Title II, or the ADA in general may call the department’s ADA Information Line (1-800-514-0301, Voice; 1-800-514-0383, TTY).  Specialists are available to answer questions Monday – Friday from 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time), except on Thursdays when the hours are 12:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.  Calls are confidential. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery Speaking at the White for an Elder Justice ForumBy Stuart F. Delery, Acting Associate Attorney General

Earlier this week President Obama issued a proclamation designating Monday, June 15, 2015 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/06/12/presidential-proclamation-world-elder-abuse-awareness-day-2015).  The President called on all Americans to observe the day by “learning the signs of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, and by raising awareness about this important public health issue.”  On Tuesday, Cecilia Muñoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council, welcomed fifty advocates, physicians, prosecutors, researchers, representatives of financial institutions, and state and local government officials to the White House for an Elder Justice Forum to talk about how best to address and prevent elder abuse and financial exploitation.  With more than 40 million Americans already older than 65, and with 10,000 more Americans joining their ranks every day, these are issues of increasing urgency. 

The White House meeting participants clearly understood this urgency, and came to the Elder Justice Forum with innovative ideas for strengthening law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts in this arena; supporting research and victim services; and preventing and combatting elder financial exploitation.  As the meeting participants shared their ideas with each other and with the senior Administration officials attending the forum, I was struck by several common themes:   

We should employ multi-faceted, multi-cultural, and multi-disciplinary approaches to combat the mistreatment of older Americans.  Victims of elder abuse and financial exploitation are likely to have contact with many different professionals in their communities.  Unless those professionals – including 911 operators, emergency medical technicians, law enforcement officers, postal workers, health care providers, and bankers – are trained to ask the right (and culturally-appropriate) questions, to share information with one another, and to report their concerns to a single point of contact (such as a dedicated elder abuse prosecutor or case manager), many of our family members, friends, and neighbors will continue to suffer in silence.       

We need to know more to do more.  Our understanding of elder abuse lags far behind our knowledge of child abuse and domestic violence – a fact that is both alarming and unacceptable.  While we have made some inroads on the research front, we must redouble those efforts and identify the factors that leave older adults vulnerable to mistreatment, screening tools for recognizing victims, and effective interventions to address and prevent mistreatment.Panel for the Elder Justice Forum at the White House

We can work better by working together.  By far, the need to work together was the most resounding theme to echo throughout the day.  Elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation do not recognize cultural, demographic, or geographic boundaries, and our efforts to develop sustainable and effective solutions must cross the same lines.  While I am proud of the Administration’s elder justice work to date, we can achieve even more by working with our colleagues in state and local government and the private sector to improve the quality of life for this vulnerable – and growing – population. 

This week’s Elder Justice Forum, as well as the White House Conference on Aging in July (http://www.whitehouseconferenceonaging.gov/), will create significant momentum behind this critical cause, and an opportunity to make meaningful progress in the fight against elder abuse and financial exploitation.  We should seize that opportunity, because we owe our nation’s seniors nothing less.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Left to right: U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Zane Memeger, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys Director Monty Wilkinson, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Deputy Attorney General Sally YatesAttorney General Loretta Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates joined the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) to honor 160 award recipients at the 31st Annual EOUSA Director’s Awards Ceremony. 

“Our honorees include career executives and supervisors; Assistant U.S. Attorneys and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys; appellate attorneys and law enforcement officials; administrators, paralegals, and public affairs officers,” said Attorney General Lynch.  “These individuals, and so many others, have faced daunting and sometimes dangerous challenges.  They have dedicated their leadership and their expertise, their time and their energy, to the service of their mission.  And they have remained devoted, at all times, to the high ideals and deeply-held values that animate our country and our cause.”

The work recognized by these awards includes cases such as the largest organized crime prosecution targeting a Eurasian criminal enterprise, protecting the rights of our service members through USERRA, and prosecuting a serial rape and pornography case that spanned five years and involved more than 50 victims.

31st Annual EOUSA Director's Awards CeremonyToday’s honorees have worked diligently and selflessly to protect the rights of Americans, and we applaud them for their pursuit of justice and commitment to excellence. 

EOUSA provides oversight, general executive assistance, and direction to the 94 United States Attorneys’ offices around the country. For more information on EOUSA and its mission, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao.




U.S. Attorney's Office News
Thursday, June 4, 2015

Courtesy of Principal Deputy Director Bea Hanson of the Office on Violence Against Women

As many of us are preparing for the end of school and summer vacation, communities across the world are gearing up to commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15. WEAAD was launched in 2006, to shine a spotlight on the abuse and neglect experienced by millions of older adults that is too often overlooked or unreported. On this day, we have the opportunity to increase awareness about abuse in later life, learn what to do if we suspect abuse or neglect, and stand united against elder abuse.

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) remains committed to raising awareness about abuse in later life.  Since 2006, 77 communities have received funding through OVW’s Enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life Program. The Abuse in Later Life Program has made it possible for thousands of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, victim service providers, and other professionals who work with older victims to receive vital training to on how to recognize and address elder abuse.  

On April 22 – 23, 2015, OVW and the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) convened a roundtable with national leaders and subject matter experts to talk about ways to improve the criminal justice and victim services responses to elder abuse. Based on this roundtable, OVW is working with NCALL to identify enhanced training opportunities and resources for criminal justice professionals and develop guiding principles, standards and practice guidelines on effectively serving older victims/survivors of abuse for both domestic violence and sexual assault programs and aging services organizations.

As the percentage of Americans over the age of 50 continues to grow, the number of older adults experiencing abuse in later life is also increasing. We encourage you to get involved in local WEAAD events because you can make a difference. Here are some ideas:

  • Take advantage of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to highlight domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in later life in your community

  • Use the phrase “victims across the lifespan” to promote recognition of older victims in written materials

  • Include images of older adults in brochures, posters and presentations

  • Include examples of abuse in later life in educational events

  • Conduct outreach where older adults gather

  • Highlight older victims during domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking awareness months

  • Work collaboratively with experts in aging network services and elder abuse

Information and resources on elder abuse is available through the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL), U.S. Department of Justice Elder Justice Website and the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).  Additional information on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day can be found on the Administration for Community Living website.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, neglect, or exploitation visit, U.S. Department of Justice Elder Justice Website,  NCEA’s State Resources webpage or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Courtesy of Stuart F. Delery, Acting Associate Attorney General

The Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services provides essential support to state, local, and tribal police departments.  Led by a former police chief who served for over 28 years in the Oakland and East Palo Alto Police Departments, the COPS Office is one of the nation’s foremost resources on building trust and mutual respect between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.  It has worked with hundreds of police departments to provide training, lead collaborative efforts to improve policies and practices, and coordinate emergency assistance in response to a crisis.  It also administers grants that have allowed state, local, and tribal police departments to hire and retain an additional 126,000 officers, focused on top national priorities like preventing terrorism and violent crime.

Law enforcement organizations and civil rights leaders have praised the COPS Office’s work.  And its work is all the more critical given the tensions that recent incidents in Baltimore, Ferguson, North Charleston, and elsewhere have laid bare.

But instead of maintaining or expanding the COPS Office’s programs, the budget that the House of Representatives is about to consider would effectively eliminate them.  The White House Office of Management and Budget recently released a letter to the Hill expressing serious concerns about the House budget proposal.  It would cut all funding for the COPS Office’s training and critical response efforts, as well as funding for advancing community policing innovation in the field.  It would eliminate the COPS hiring grants.  Almost all of the existing functions of the COPS Office would lose their entire budget at the start of the next fiscal year. 

The proposed budget relocates the funding for peripherally related programs currently run out of other offices to the COPS Office.  But none of that money would fund the efforts that have been at the core of the COPS Office’s success. The COPS program is just one of many examples of the troubling, short-sighted cuts that result from Congressional Republicans’ insistence on maintaining sequestration funding levels in their FY 2016 budget. Sequestration was never intended to take effect: rather, it was supposed to threaten such drastic cuts to both defense and non-defense funding that policymakers would be motivated to come to the table and reduce the deficit through smart, balanced reforms.

Gutting the COPS Office would result in an estimated 1,300 fewer officers in cities and towns all across the country and diminish the capacity of the nation’s first responders.  Its full impact, however, would go beyond the loss of law enforcement personnel safeguarding communities.  That impact is best understood by looking at the kinds of remarkable support for police departments that also would be lost. 

For example, after a dramatic increase in officer-involved shootings in 2011, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff recognized a problem and called the COPS Office for help.  As part of a multi-year, voluntary collaborative review process, the COPS Office identified 75 findings and made recommendations that the department could implement to reduce the number of officer-involved shootings.

Three years after the initial report was issued, the Las Vegas department has implemented almost every recommendation.  Officer-involved shootings involving unarmed suspects have been significantly reduced.  The use of tasers, pepper spray, and batons has declined.  And the number of arrests has gone down, while public safety and community relations have improved considerably. 

Las Vegas is just one of the jurisdictions that have benefited from the COPS Office’s expertise.  Large cities like Philadelphia, regional centers like Spokane and Fayetteville, and smaller cities like Calexico and Salinas in California all are currently working with the COPS Office to address issues ranging from use of force to racial profiling, training, accountability systems, and community engagement.  Agencies across the nation are using COPS Office reports as self-assessment tools.

Just as importantly, when communities like Baltimore and Ferguson have faced crises, the COPS Office has helped law enforcement agencies respond swiftly, drawing on a nationwide network of experts and successfully connecting them with the people responsible for coordinating the law enforcement response on the ground.  Within days of recent outbreaks of violence, for example, the COPS Office has assembled a group of experience police chiefs to provide advice on best practices for crowd control that respected First Amendment rights while also protecting officers.  The COPS Office also provided critical response resources to police departments in Detroit, San Diego, New Orleans, and numerous other cities and towns facing a variety of challenges.

The payoff from an investment in the COPS programs has been more effective policing and safer communities. As we continue an emerging national dialogue about improving police-community relationships, the remarkable expertise and resources that the COPS Office brings to the table – including its ability to serve as a liaison between community and law enforcement leaders – are more important than ever.  Eliminating such a resource would be disastrous.  I urge Congress to restore funding for the COPS programs. 


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