Justice Blogs

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Courtesy of the Attorney General

The Department of Justice (DOJ), including the FBI, continues to engage in outreach at the local level to foster trust, improve awareness, and educate communities about violence risk factors in order to stop radicalization to violence before it starts. DOJ long has been extremely active in community based outreach across a broad range of issues.  During the last three years alone, our United States Attorneys have leveraged their unique convening authorities to lead more than 2,500 engagement-related events in their communities.

We are now working with our partners to build on past successes, and DOJ, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) selected three pilot regions to identify promising practices that will inform and inspire community-led efforts throughout the nation. The key to the pilot programs is to broaden the base of community leaders and key stakeholders involved at the local level in order to help eliminate conditions that lead to alienation and violent extremism, and to empower young people and other vulnerable communities to reject destructive ideologies.

The cities were chosen based on their existing achievements with community engagement.

Greater Boston: The region was selected because of its existing collaborative efforts and nationally-recognized success with developing robust comprehensive violence prevention and intervention strategies. The overall project goal is to increase the capacity of community and government as a way to protect vulnerable individuals and the nation from violent extremism.  The locally-driven framework was developed by a collaborative of non-governmental, governmental, and academic stakeholders from the Greater Boston region. 

Existing prevention and early intervention strategies that can be enhanced as well as new strategies that require resources for implementation were explored. Although the initiative was developed to counter violent extremism, the solutions build upon other prevention related strategies that are currently being implemented through broader efforts by public health, mental health, non-profit organizations, private partnerships, government, and others. 

Greater Los Angeles: The Foundations of the Los Angeles CVE Framework go back to 2008, when the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sought to build upon work started by faith- and community-based organizations. Now involving the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission and federal agencies that include DHS, DOJ, and FBI, the Los Angeles Framework is built upon the concept that strong local communities, well-equipped families and engaged local institutions represent the best defense against violent extremism. With a commitment to preserving civil rights and civil liberties, community engagement programs seek to establish trust and build partnerships. With a “whole of government” and a “whole of community” approach, the Los Angeles Framework consists of three pillars: prevention, intervention and interdiction, each of which aims to address community needs and mitigate a range of risk factors. Guided by ongoing community input, specific efforts to combat violent extremism in Los Angeles include forums, conferences, workshops, advisory groups, and continued dialogue with community leaders.

The Twin Cities: Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in North America, the overwhelming majority of whom are productive and peaceful members of the Twin Cities community. However, since 2007, overseas terror organizations like Al Shabaab and ISIL have targeted some in the community to travel overseas and fight. This included 26-year-old Shirwa Ahmed, a Somali-born American citizen, who on October 29, 2008, became the first documented American suicide bomber. Minnesota’s Somali community has expressed a desire to see this cycle of recruiting end. Community leaders are working closely with law enforcement and other stakeholders on a community-led effort to address what the community has identified as the root causes of radicalization. This effort seeks to bring together community-based organizations and local partners, including the Minneapolis and St. Paul school systems, interfaith organizations, nonprofits and NGOs, and state, county, and local governments. These organizations will together create community-led intervention teams. In addition, the plan brings mentorship programs, scholarships, afterschool programs, and job trainers and placement officers into the Somali community to build community resilience and address the root causes of radicalization.

We encourage communities across the country that are interested in learning more about these programs to contact their local U.S. Attorney office and speak with the CVE coordinator.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division

Mr. Barron sits outside the county building where he applied for a marriage license.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 of Justice will spotlight efforts that are opening gateways to full participation and opportunity for people with disabilities.  This month, we spotlight the story of Randy Barron and building access in Washington County, Missouri.

Randy Barron was excited to apply for a marriage license in Washington County, but he was soon met with obstacles.  After Mr. Barron got through the front door of the county building, he found that the ramp going down to the Recorder of Deeds office was too steep for him to safely use his wheelchair.  Additionally, there was insufficient room for him to maneuver his wheelchair to a flat surface to reach the door to the office.  Barriers to accessibility mean that people like Mr. Barron will not be able to fully benefit from county services and programs, including experiencing the happiest of moments of our lives, like applying for a marriage license.

Over the next three years, experiences like Mr. Barron’s will become a thing of the past.  Washington County and the U.S. Department of Justice 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 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  One of the hallmarks of the agreement is the requirement that the county will remove architectural barriers in its buildings, including making entrances accessible.

Mr. Barron has told the department that he’s “happy to know that Washington County will be ensuring the accessibility of its buildings and programs.  So many aspects of public life require access to the county’s facilities and services, from paying taxes, to going to court, to getting married.” 

Under the agreement, Washington County will also ensure that people with disabilities — especially people who use wheelchairs like Mr. Barron — can get inside buildings that offer county services and programs, and take full advantage of those services and programs.  Already, Washington County has installed an elevator to provide access to the upper and lower levels of the courthouse. 

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 information on how jurisdictions can participate in Project Civic Access, visit www.ada.gov.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

photograph of elephant

By John Cruden, Catherine Novelli and Dan Ashe

“Did you ever get to see an elephant in the wild before they became extinct?”  This is a question children may soon be asking unless we take immediate action.  Wildlife trafficking–not just of elephants, but also of rhinos, tigers, great apes, exotic birds, and many other species–has exploded in recent years to become a multibillion-dollar criminal enterprise with increasingly grave and potentially irreversible consequences.  The scourge of wildlife trafficking threatens conservation efforts, national security, the rule of law, regional stability, and the sustainable livelihoods of communities.  So what are we doing to stop this problem?   

Today, the United States launched an Implementation Plan for the President’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, which will be a roadmap to fighting poaching and illegal wildlife trade.  The plan focuses on three key areas:  strengthening law enforcement domestically and globally, reducing demand, and building international cooperation.  Wildlife trafficking is a global problem that demands a global solution.  We are determined to be a part of that solution, and we will continue to work closely in our efforts with foreign governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, community leaders, and civil society to achieve this goal. 

Strong law enforcement is critical to stopping criminals engaged in wildlife crime.  The U.S. Department of Justice has indicted, prosecuted, and secured convictions in numerous cases of trafficking in internationally protected species, such as elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn, narwhal tusk,   turtles, and reptiles.  Investigative efforts led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service targeted traffickers in rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory, and other wildlife products, concentrating on organized smuggling rings, middlemen, and art and antique dealers.  Operation Crash–named after the collective term for a herd of rhinoceros–has led to significant prison terms and fines for those involved, as well as the forfeiture of millions of dollars in cash, gold bars, rhino horn, and luxury vehicles and jewelry. 

To respond effectively to wildlife trafficking, most countries need to enact more robust laws while enhancing their investigative, law enforcement, and judicial capacity to stem the corruption and illicit flow of money associated with wildlife trafficking.  In 2014, the Department of State’s capacity-building efforts centered on training programs for our foreign counterparts in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, strengthening national legislative, investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial processes to enforce wildlife laws.  The Department of State supported approximately 20 training programs across the law enforcement spectrum, helping more than 30 countries combat wildlife trafficking more effectively.  The programs also provided an opportunity to improve international cooperation on wildlife trafficking investigations, since this international threat requires a transnational response.

Many Americans are surprised to learn that our nation ranks among the highest in the consumption of wildlife and wildlife products, both legal and illegal. To demonstrate global leadership and limit opportunities open to traffickers in the United States, we have begun tightening domestic regulations around the trade in wildlife, and elevated awareness of the plight of elephants, rhinos and other highly trafficked species in an effort to curtail demand.  In 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service banned all commercial imports of ivory into the United States, and will propose a near complete ban on trade in ivory within the United States this year.  And we destroyed six tons of ivory taken in law enforcement raids and seizures over the past 20 years to send a global message that ivory must be rendered valueless as a commodity and the trade in elephant ivory crushed.

Building on these efforts, we will continue to take measures in the United States to enhance our own law enforcement capabilities while supporting foreign governments with technical assistance, training, and analytical tools to build their capacity.  We will also use diplomatic cooperation tools, such as the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, to bolster international action on combating wildlife trafficking. 

Decreasing demand for illegal wildlife and wildlife products is critical.  In cooperation with our partners, we will continue to raise public awareness of the harmful impact from these purchases through public service announcements, media campaigns, and community outreach.  We will work with the tourism and transportation sectors, including airlines, hotel chains, restaurants and online retailers to support their commitment to halt the sale of illegal wildlife and wildlife products.  We will encourage foreign governments and corporations in major consumer countries to lead by example and eliminate illegal wildlife and wildlife products from official functions while strengthening local policies and enforcement. 

Our diplomatic engagement on this issue is at the highest levels of government, and coordinated on-the-ground efforts.  While we aim to take the profit out of wildlife crime and increase the risks for its perpetrators, we are also fully committed to helping people in wildlife/biodiversity hotspots by strengthening social and economic incentives in their communities to protect wildlife. To be successful, conservation efforts must benefit both wildlife and the people who share an ecosystem.  To cite just one key example, wild elephant populations generate orders of magnitude more in revenue to local economies from tourism than they ever can from the illegal sale of their ivory.

Many protected and endangered species faced a difficult year in 2014.  Elephants reached a dangerous tipping point with an average of more than 20,000 African elephants killed per year since 2010.  Pangolins, which are found in tropical areas in Asia and Africa and closely resemble a scaly anteater, are now the most trafficked species to date.  A record number of rhinos were killed in South Africa last year, with 1,215 animals poached in 2014 alone.  Despite this grim picture, there is still reason for hope.  When the Chinese government joined international efforts to end the consumption of shark fin soup–which has contributed to the deaths of some 70 million sharks each year–by banning its consumption at state dinners, shark fin sales reportedly dropped by 50-70 percent.  This demonstrates that progress is possible when governments take action, civil society raises awareness, and companies refuse to support wildlife trafficking.

Given the enormous consequences of the scourge of wildlife trafficking, we all have a moral obligation to fight it.  Future generations are relying on us to take on a leadership role and act now.  Do you want to help?  Share this blog and let others know the importance of ending the illegal trade in wildlife!

The authors are Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Assistant Attorney General of the United States for the Environment and Natural Resources, respectively

You can learn more about U.S. State Department efforts to stem combat wildlife trafficking here and by following the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs on Twitter @StateDeptOES and Facebook.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Attorny General Eric Holder with Students and Police Officers on Building Community Trust and Tours the Willie Mays Boys & GirlsAttorney General Eric Holder with Students and Police Officers on Building Community Trust and Tours the Willie Mays Boys & Girls of San Francisco

Over the last several months, I have been fortunate to travel across the country to convene a series of roundtable discussions aimed at strengthening and fostering enduring relationships between America’s brave law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.

These discussions have brought together diverse groups of local leaders, police officials, civil rights advocates, United States Attorneys, students, faith leaders, and community members to examine what we can do to restore trust wherever it has been eroded – and to build trust in places where it never existed.  The resulting conversations – in Atlanta, Memphis, Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia – have been challenging, enlightening, and often deeply moving.  And each has been vitally important in enabling the Justice Department to take this important, national dialogue to a new level.

I recently continued this effort in Oakland and San Francisco, California.  In Oakland, I was proud to join a group of over 50 leaders and engaged citizens in an inclusive conversation about the challenges they’ve faced throughout the metropolitan area, as well as the promising work that’s underway to address those challenges.  In San Francisco, I had the privilege of visiting the Willie Mays Boys & Girls Club, where I spoke with a small group of local teenagers and a number of courageous police officers and academy recruits from the San Francisco Police Department.

Over the course of these constructive conversations – and all of the others I’ve convened – I have been struck not by some of the divisions that have emerged, but by the remarkable commonalities.  I have been moved to hear from valorous police officers, who risk their lives every day to secure their communities, as well as parents who express very real concern about the safety of their children.

In every one of these roundtables, as passionate, engaged people have come together to advance a positive dialogue and confront lingering mistrust, it has been clear that citizens of all perspectives are bound together not only by common values, but common aims: safer streets, stronger communities, and enhanced protections for all.  That’s why the Justice Department is continuing to fulfill these aims not only with discussion, but with sustained and deliberate action.

Through our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and other components, the Department is making good on its pledge to provide law enforcement with access to the tools and support they need to do their jobs as safely and effectively as possible.  With the launch of our National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, we’re striving to strengthen the partnerships between community members and law enforcement professionals at every level of government.

At the same time, at President Obama’s direction, the Administration is taking a range of steps to improve the way we equip our law enforcement agencies, to invest in body-worn cameras and cutting-edge training, and to better facilitate broad-based community engagement.  Through the President’s groundbreaking Task Force on 21st Century Policing, we’re bringing law enforcement leaders and experts together to provide strong, national direction on a scale not seen in nearly half a century.  And going forward, we intend to continue to use every tool at our disposal to enhance our capacity to combat crime while restoring public trust.

I strongly believe that, by engaging in forthright and action-oriented discussions, we can make real and effective progress in advancing the cause of justice in communities across the country.  Although my time in the Obama Administration will soon draw to a close, my personal commitment to this work will remain steadfast.  Thanks to everything I’ve heard from the remarkable citizens and police officers I’ve met in recent weeks, I am confident in where this vital work will lead us.  And I’m optimistic about the transformative results that we will achieve together in the days ahead.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sunshine Week 2015 begins March 16th and the Department of Justice once again invites agency personnel and members of the public to join us as we kick off the week. For 2015 the Department of Justice is focusing its celebration on the many contributions made by FOIA professionals in the implementation of this important law.

Attorney General Holder recognized the critical importance of FOIA professionals in his FOIA Guidelines. As he noted, these individuals are “responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the Act” and “deserve the full support of the agency’s Chief FOIA Officer.” Each year, FOIA professionals from across the government work with their agency colleagues to uphold our nation’s commitment to open government through the effective administration of the FOIA.

In the years since the issuance of the FOIA Guidelines, agencies have taken concrete steps and shown great progress in improving their FOIA administration, including processing increasing numbers of FOIA requests, proactively disclosing more records online, and implementing new technologies to more efficiently meet increasing demands. These, and may other agency achievements over the years, are attributable to the hard work of FOIA professionals from across the government.

This year’s Sunshine Week event will celebrate the contributions of these FOIA professionals with awards recognizing their service. The event will also feature a keynote address from the Department of Justice.

The details of this event, which is open to all agency personnel and members of the public, are:

Department of Justice Sunshine Week 2015 Celebration
Robert F. Kennedy Building - Great Hall
10th and Constitution Ave NW
March 16, 2015, 10:00 am - Noon

You will need a picture ID to enter the building.

Nominations for the various awards, with submission guidelines and categories listed at the end of this post, can be submitted to the Office of Information Policy up until Monday, March 2nd.

We hope that you can join us for this year’s celebration. If you are interested in attending this event, you can register by e-mailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Coordinator at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “Sunshine Week 2015 Celebration.” If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact our office at (202) 514-3642.

 

Department of Justice Sunshine Week FOIA Awards

Submission Guidelines

Eligible employees for these awards are all agency FOIA professionals. This can include Government Information Specialists, FOIA attorneys, or FOIA administrative specialists.

We invite nominations for these awards from agency professionals as well as members of the public and open government community.

Anyone submitting a nomination must provide: 

  • Their full name, title, agency or organization (if applicable), and an e-mail address,
  • The name(s) of the individual(s) they are nominating, and
  • the award category that best reflects the nominee’s accomplishments.

Each nomination must be accompanied by:

  • a letter, not to exceed two single-spaced pages, that describes the nominee’s or group’s accomplishments, why the individual or group should receive the award, what they have done that sets them apart, and how their actions benefited FOIA administration, and
  • an abstract (100 words or less) that briefly outlines the nominee’s accomplishments.

Submissions can be made to DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov using the subject line “2015 Sunshine Week FOIA Award Nomination.”

Award Categories

Award for Exceptional Service by a FOIA Professional

Recognizing exemplary performance by a FOIA professional in carrying out the agency’s administration of the FOIA.   This award recognizes those individuals whose exceptional contributions have significantly benefited FOIA administration and implementation of Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines at their agency.  These benefits could include increased efficiency, greater use of technology, reduced backlogs, improved timeliness, and increased proactive disclosures. 

Award for Exceptional FOIA Service by a Team of Agency Professionals

Recognizing exemplary performance by a team of agency professionals. This award recognizes the outstanding performance by a team of employees, which can include a team within the FOIA office or a collaborative team between agency programmatic offices, in carrying out the agency’s administration of the FOIA.

Lifetime Service Award

Recognizing an agency FOIA professional with at least 20 years in civil service who has demonstrated high standards of excellence and dedication in the administration of the FOIA throughout their career.

Award for Excellence in Management

Recognizing outstanding performance in managerial achievements in the agency’s administration of the FOIA which have significantly improved operations, productivity, or reduced costs.

Award for Outstanding Contributions by a New Employee

Recognizing exceptional performance and notable contributions in carrying out the agency’s FOIA responsibilities by a new employee with fewer than three years of Federal service.

Award for Outstanding Customer Service

Recognizing outstanding performance in customer service by an agency FOIA professional.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Friday, January 30, 2015

Mr. Burns uses assistive technology to use his computer.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 of Justice will spotlight efforts that are opening gateways to full participation and opportunity for people with disabilities.  This month, we spotlight the story of Marshall Burns and website access in Nueces County, Texas.

When Marshall Burns was invited to present at the Coastal Bend Hurricane Conference in Nueces County, Texas, he was excited and honored.  Being asked to share his professional expertise—emergency preparedness in transit services—with peers was a highlight in Mr. Burns’ career.  But when Mr. Burns tried to register online for the conference, he couldn’t do so.  That’s because Mr. Burns is blind.  The forms on Nueces County’s website were incompatible with the software program that reads text out loud to Mr. Burns.  Barriers to accessibility mean that, not only will people like Mr. Burns be discouraged from participating in local programs, but that all individuals, regardless of disability are not able to benefit from the expertise that Mr. Burns and others can share.

Over the next three years, experiences like Mr. Burns’ will become a thing of the past.  Nueces County and the U.S. Department of Justice 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 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  One of the hallmarks of the agreement is the requirement that the County will assess all existing web content and online services for conformance with industry guidelines—the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0—for making web content accessible.

Mr. Burns has told the department that he’s “happy to see that Nueces County will be complying with WCAG 2.0.  WCAG was developed by people with disabilities for people with disabilities and meets standards that will enable us to navigate the county’s websites on our own.” 

Under the agreement, Nueces County, Texas, will also ensure that people with disabilities—especially people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices—can get inside buildings that offer County services and programs.  That means the county will renovate everything from entrances, service areas and counters, restrooms, and parking so that people with disabilities can get into county buildings and use services and programs the county offers.  Sidewalks and curb cuts all over the county will also be targeted—another change that promises to significantly improve life for people with disabilities in Nueces County. 

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 information on how jurisdictions can participate in Project Civic Access visit www.ada.gov

Monday, January 26, 2015

Courtesy of Eve Hill and Mark Kappelhoff, Deputy Assistant Attorneys General for the Civil Rights Division

Note: The sample MOU can be found at here.

President Obama established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault one year ago.  On this anniversary, the task force has released a sample memorandum of understanding (MOU) to assist campuses and law enforcement agencies to work together in their efforts to protect students, address the needs of sexual assault survivors, and ensure a prompt, thorough, and fair response to allegations of sexual misconduct.  This is yet another important step in the task force’s effort to help colleges and universities, as well as their partners in the community, address the problem of campus sexual violence.  

While colleges and universities can do much on their own, communication and collaboration between campus administrators, campus police and local law enforcement is critically important to address the problem of sexual assault on campus.

The sample MOU reflects input from task force members and agencies, outside experts on sexual assault, police associations, state attorneys general, and campus administrators and counsels.

Many colleges and universities already have MOUs in place with local law enforcement authorities covering a variety of areas.  Our conversations with campus administrators, campus police, and law enforcement have underscored the need for additional tools and strategies that are specifically tailored to the dynamics of sexual assault on campus, as well as the needs of sexual assault survivors.  The task force is providing this sample MOU with that in mind.

We recognize that every campus and community is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  The sample MOU is, therefore, intended to be a starting point for a conversation between campus administrators, campus police and local law enforcement on how to improve collaborations between critical first responders.  We fully expect that, in partnering to address the issue of sexual violence on campus, campus administrators and law enforcement will adapt the provisions of the sample MOU to meet their particular needs and circumstances.  For example, some campus and law enforcement authorities may wish to incorporate some or all of the provisions into an existing general campus safety MOU, while others may prefer a standalone agreement specifically addressing campus sexual violence.  Still others may decide that some different method of collaboration better meets their needs.  We hope that this sample MOU will be an important resource in collaborative efforts between campus administrators, campus police and law enforcement to eradicate sexual assault from college communities nationwide. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

As a part of the ongoing series of Best Practices Workshops, OIP committed to publishing “tips and best practices discussed during these workshops” as a resource for all agencies. After each event, OIP has published recaps of each workshop and the best practices shared on FOIA Post with links to additional available resources. In order to promote easier access to this information, last week we introduced a new page on our website dedicated to the Best Practices Workshop series.

The new page on OIP’s website contains detailed information and resources connected to each of the events in this series, including:

  • Title and date of the event,
  • A link to the previously published event recap on FOIA Post,
  • A listing of event panelists, and
  • Links to additional resources on OIP’s website on the event topic.

Significantly, for each workshop we include a description of the best practices that were discussed during the event. Any FOIA professional can review those best practices and then adopt them for use in their own agency or use them as jumping off points for developing additional best practices. 

This page will continue to be updated as additional events take place.

The next event in this series, which will be held next month, will be on the topic of best practices in customer service and dispute resolution. We are pleased to announce that this event will be open to interested members of the public as well as agency personnel. The details for the next event are:

FOIA Best Practices Workshop
Best Practices in Customer Service and Dispute Resolution
Department of Justice, 2 Constitution Square
145 N Street NE – Room 1W 1001
February 18, 2015, 1:30 – 3:30 pm

You will need a picture ID to enter the building for this event.

Please note that there has been a date and location change for this event. If you have already registered for this workshop, OIP will forward this new information to you directly.

If you are interested in attending next month’s event, you can register by e-mailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “February Best Practices Workshop.”  As space for this meeting is limited, registration is required to attend.  If you have any questions regarding this event or the Best Practices series, please contact OIP’s Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post
Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Attorney General Holder’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines emphasize that “agencies should make it a priority to respond [to requests] in a timely manner.”  This directive includes all aspects of FOIA administration, including the handling of requests for expedited processing.  It is important that agencies ensure that they have effective processes in place to promptly adjudicate such requests.  To encourage agency compliance with this distinct aspect of the FOIA, OIP recently issued guidance on this topic.    

The FOIA requires that agencies grant requesters expedited processing of their requests when the requester demonstrates a “compelling need,” or “in other cases determined by the agency.”  The FOIA also requires agencies to decide whether to expedite a request, and to convey this decision to the requester, within ten days.  Each year, agencies report statistics on their compliance with the FOIA’s expedited processing provisions in their Annual FOIA Reports.     

As agencies strive to meet the challenges of the increased volume and complexity of FOIA requests, it is important that they also promptly identify and adjudicate requests for expedited processing.  OIP’s guidance highlights three areas where agencies can focus to ensure that they are providing timely determinations on requests for expediting processing.  Agencies should:

  1. Screen all FOIA requests at the time of receipt to determine whether expedited processing has been requested.

  2. Be alert to requests for expedition that may be made after the initial request is submitted.

  3. Establish clear coordination procedures with other offices that are involved in making the determination on a request for expedited processing.

The full text of the guidance, along with all other guidance issued by OIP, is available on our guidance page.  OIP encourages agencies to review their procedures for adjudicating requests for expedited processing to ensure that they are efficiently and effectively fulfilling this discrete aspect of FOIA administration. 

Topic(s):
FOIA Post
Thursday, December 18, 2014

OIP’s ongoing series of Best Practices Workshops continued last week with a panel of experts discussing how to utilize technology to improve agency FOIA processes. This series, designed as a part of the United States' Second Open Government National Action Plan commitment to further modernize FOIA, aims to leverage effective strategies from across the government by highlighting and sharing successes achieved by agencies on a wide range of FOIA issues.

In his FOIA Memorandum, President Obama called on agencies to “use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government.” This message is echoed by Attorney General Holder in his FOIA Guidelines, noting that “[o]pen government requires agencies to work proactively and respond to requests promptly.” In their Chief FOIA Officer Reports each year, agencies continue to detail the steps they have taken to utilize advanced or new technologies to improve or find efficiencies in their administration of the FOIA.

The panel for this event included Doug Hibbard, Senior Advisor to the Initial Request Staff at OIP, Michael Norman, Director of FOIA Technology with the Privacy Office at the Department of Homeland Security, and Joan Fina, Assistant General Counsel at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Each panelist discussed steps and best practices they have implemented when incorporating technology into their FOIA processing, including:

  • Leveraging all available agency resources – Technology tools may have various uses and even those not specifically designed for FOIA can help create efficiencies in the FOIA process. By leveraging tools already available at an agency, FOIA professionals can potentially implement, and realize the benefits of, new technologies faster than if looking outside the agency.

  • Actively collaborating with technology professionals – Collaborating and working with an agency’s technology professionals can help identify available tools that can be leveraged for an agency's FOIA office. Such collaborations can also help set clear expectations for what is needed in technology tools as well as help both FOIA and technology professionals understand their role in the process of using and supporting the use of such tools. These collaborations do not necessarily have to be confined to within an agency, as professionals from across the government may be able to offer additional best practices, tools, or other assistance when seeking to implement new technologies for FOIA administration.

  • Examining different uses of technology for benefits throughout the entire FOIA process – While many agencies have focused on finding tools that help with the searchability and processing of responsive documents, there are a number of other tools or uses of technology that can also be very helpful for an agencies' FOIA administration. For example, within agencies the use of improved networks and online platforms to move responsive records between offices, to collaborate on FOIA processing, to facilitate teleworking, and to track workflow metrics can all be particularly useful for finding efficiencies. Electronic communication with requesters, including the sending of responsive records in electronic formats, should be the default for agencies.  Not only is this more customer friendly, but it is a much more efficient method of communication for both agencies and requesters.

  • Continually evaluating the effectiveness of tools – Flexible approaches to technology implementation are needed, as not every tool will work for every agency and existing tools may no longer be effective. By regularly evaluating tools, agencies can assess their effectiveness, identify best practices for their use, and work to identify opportunities for the incorporation of new tools.

The speakers at this event all noted that the incorporation of any new technology into the FOIA process is not just the job of FOIA professionals, but it requires the work of multiple staffs within an agency. Collaboration between FOIA and technology professionals can help overcome obstacles to the implementation of new technologies as well as uncover additional tools that may be useful in administering the FOIA. Additionally, the speakers all highlighted how the use of advanced document review tools, such as functions provided by eDiscovery tools, can help create efficiencies and time savings in FOIA administration by reducing the time needed to search for and de-duplicate records, thereby allowing FOIA professionals to spend more time reviewing located documents.

The Best Practices series seeks to provide FOIA professionals from around the government the opportunity to hear from individuals who have experience within a particular topic in order to leverage the experiences of others in their own FOIA process. As highlighted by the panel at this event, opportunities exist to identify or leverage technology tools in order to find efficiencies across the government.

The Best Practices Workshop series will continue on February 11, 2015, when a panel of agency personnel will discuss the topic of customer service and dispute resolution. If you are interested in attending this event, you can register by e-mailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “February Best Practices Workshop.” If you have any questions regarding the series, please contact OIP’s Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

Be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for more information about these events and about other training opportunities offered by OIP.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post
Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In Memphis, Attorney General Holder Talks About Building Trust Between Communities and Law Enforcement

Watch on YouTube

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to Memphis and held a roundtable discussion on improving the relationship between the city's people of color and local law enforcement.

In the wake of the recent police-involved deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and others, the President has called for an increased effort to help rebuild communities' trust in local law enforcement and the justice system. In that vein, the Attorney General will be holding similar discussions in a number of other cities across the country.


"We want to make sure that law enforcement acts in a way that people will perceive as being fair, and then, in fact, is fair."

-- Attorney General Eric Holder


Attorney General Holder also noted the inefficiency of policing on the basis of stereotypes, saying that this kind of policing will "draw you to places where you shouldn't be, and take you away from places where you, in fact, should be."

The discussion was held at the Lorraine Motel — the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968, and now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. Attorney General Holder said the museum was the "perfect place" for this meeting, as "it's an indication of how far we've come, but it's also a reminder of how far we have to go." He also linked protesters across the country today to those who are memorialized in the museum — "people who made noise, who disrupted things, all with the hope, with the aim of making our great nation better," he said.

Topic(s):
Civil Rights (including EEOC), Community Outreach
Monday, December 1, 2014

Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

“On World AIDS Day 2014, the Department of Justice recognizes that eradicating stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS is a key civil rights issue.  With today’s observance, we reaffirm our commitment to protect and advance the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS.  Using every legal tool at our disposal, and working together with our partner agencies under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we remain dedicated to these goals not only on this important day, but every day of the year.”

-Attorney General Eric Holder

President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy recognizes eradicating stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS as a priority.  On the occasion of World AIDS Day 2014, the Department of Justice reaffirms its commitment to carrying forth those goals through rigorous enforcement of civil rights laws and educating members of the public on their rights and responsibilities.  Today we reflect on the work accomplished in the last year, and the work yet to be done.

The Justice Department’s HIV/AIDS enforcement efforts under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) over the past year have been active.  For example, in 2013, the department secured a settlement agreement with the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) following its investigation of SCDC’s policies and practices of segregating inmates with HIV/AIDS and denying them the opportunity to participate equally in services, programs and activities.  The department’s investigation found that the SCDC unnecessarily segregated all inmates with HIV in two of SCDC’s highest-security prisons, regardless of their individual security classification.  SCDC further segregated inmates with HIV in “HIV-only” dorms in these two high-security prisons, and the inmates were required to wear clothing and badges that identified their dorms and effectively disclosed their HIV status to other inmates, correctional staff and visitors.  Under the terms of the consent decree, SCDC implemented policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, including HIV in particular.  Since the execution of the agreement, inmates with HIV who were housed in the SCDC’s two highest-security prisons have been relocated to new housing options, based on the SCDC’s classification system and without regard to HIV.  The SCDC inmates with HIV have also had the opportunity to participate in any programs for which they are otherwise qualified, such as drug treatment, work release, pre-release preparation, intermediate psychiatric care, youthful offender programs, re-entry and food service jobs in the cafeteria and canteen.

As in years past, the department’s work has also involved allegations that individuals were denied access to health care or were otherwise treated differently in clinical settings because they have HIV.  For example, in February 2014, the department entered into a settlement agreement resolving its investigation of the refusal by a pharmacist in a well-known retail drugstore to administer a flu shot to an individual with HIV.  The department resolved such allegations by requiring policy changes, training and payment of $15,000 in damages and civil penalties. 

The department’s enforcement efforts also extended to the education setting.  In May 2014, the department negotiated a settlement agreement with a private college based on allegations that it forced an individual to withdraw from a Medical Assistant Program on the basis of her HIV status.  The agreement requires the college to adopt a nondiscrimination policy, cease asking applicants about their HIV status, train staff and pay $23,000 in damages.

Through its technical assistance work, the department continues its efforts to ensure that employers, businesses, state and local governments and people living with HIV/AIDS are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the law.  In March 2014, the department co-authored a journal article with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examining state laws that criminalize potential HIV exposure and encouraging states with HIV-specific criminal laws to use the findings of the paper to re-examine those laws, assess the laws’ alignment with current evidence regarding HIV transmission risk and consider whether the laws are the best vehicle to achieve their intended purposes. 

In July 2014, the department published a Best Practices Guide for states that wish to re-examine their HIV-specific criminal laws to ensure that existing policies do not place unique or additional burdens on individuals living with HIV/AIDS and that these policies reflect contemporary understandings of HIV transmission routes and current available treatments. 

The department’s technical assistance work continues, for example, by providing materials on www.ada.gov/aids, by participating in training events and by answering the questions of individuals and covered entities through the ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice), 800-514-0383 (TTY).

On World AIDS Day 2014, the department honors the memory of those who have lost their battles to AIDS and pledges its support to those living with HIV and AIDS throughout our country today.  To learn more about the department’s work, please visit www.ada.gov/aids.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Courtesy of Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Hines Ward, retired NFL wide receiver and former member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, shares his story on bullying.

More than one-quarter of students between the ages of 12 and 18 reported being bullied at school during the 2010-2011 school year—nearly 7 million students. Some Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students face bullying and harassment based on their immigration status, such as Micronesian students whose families have recently immigrated to the continent and Hawaii.  Others are bullied for the way they look, such as turbaned Sikh youth, or for their English language skills. 

Students who are bullied don’t feel safe, and students who don’t feel safe can’t learn. Students involved in bullying are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have physical and mental health issues. Being bullied endangers students’ academic achievement and ultimately their college and career readiness. And in some areas, bullying of AAPI students is rampant. For example, one 2014 study found that over two-thirds of turbaned Sikh youth in Fresno, California reported experiencing bullying and harassment. And another recent study found that half of the 163 Asian American New York City public school students reported experiencing some kind of bias-based harassment in a 2012 survey, compared with only 27 percent in 2009. 

When children are singled out because of a shared characteristic—such as race, sexual orientation, or religion—or a perceived shared characteristic, the issue not only affects that individual but the entire community.  Policymakers believe that AAPI students who are bullied face unique challenges, including religious, cultural, and language barriers. In addition, there has been a spike of racial hostility following the September 11th attacks against children perceived to be Muslim. The classroom should be the safest place for youth, but for some AAPI students, it can be a very dangerous environment.

Unfortunately, this issue of AAPI harassment is nothing new. In 1982, Vincent Chin became a household name in AAPI homes when he was attacked and killed because he was mistakenly perceived to be Japanese. To facilitate a conversation on this issue, in 2011, under the leadership of Amardeep Singh, former member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) hosted a Bullying Prevention Summit in New York City.

However, more work needs to be done.  Earlier this month, on the fifth anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the White House announced several efforts to address hate crimes, including a new Interagency Initiative on Hate Crimes. As a part of these efforts, WHIAAPI, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is launching the AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force to proactively address bullying in the AAPI community. In the wake of increasing concerns about the high rates of bullying among Sikh youth and incidents such as the attacks on as many as thirty Asian American students at South Philadelphia High School in December 2009, the AAPI Task Force will help ensure that the AAPI community is aware of federal resources and remedies available to them.

The AAPI Task Force brings together federal experts in civil rights, language access, education, community relations, public health, mental health, and data to find creative solutions to help the AAPI community.  These experts will coordinate the efforts of their federal agencies to work closely together with stakeholders to better understand the impediments to seeking relief and support, analyze data regarding the prevalence of bullying in the AAPI community, improve outreach, develop training and toolkits for schools, students, and parents, and explore and recommend policies to address the AAPI community’s growing concerns about bullying of AAPI youth. 

Building upon previous efforts and working closely with federal representatives and community leaders, I look forward to seeing the AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force make much needed progress on this very important issue in the AAPI community and furthering our commitment to improving the quality of life of AAPIs.  

Join the conversation on AAPI bullying prevention on Twitter using hashtag #AAPIstrong.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Blog courtesy of Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Sexual violence is a devastating and pervasive problem throughout the nation, and its shocking prevalence on tribal lands is especially troubling.

Particularly in recent years, the Department of Justice has made it a top priority to put an end to that unacceptable status quo – from our work to secure and pass important new protections for women in Indian Country, as part of last year’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, to the creation of an American Indian/Alaska Native Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Sexual Assault Response Team Initiative through the Department’s Office for Victims of Crime.

Bringing together diverse federal offices, as well as tribal nations and organizations, this Initiative’s critical mission is to strengthen the federal response to sexual violence in tribal nations.  On Friday, I had the privilege of meeting with the Initiative’s Coordination Committee to discuss ways to take this work to a new level – and to receive the Committee’s formal report and concrete recommendations on improving federal agency response to sexual violence in tribal nations.

Every member of the Committee has done a remarkable job in capturing the challenges that far too many Native women face – and devising specific ways to overcome them.  In their report, and in last week’s meeting, they detailed possible strategies for coordinating across federal offices and collaborating at the local level.  They shared ideas for recruiting, rewarding, and supporting the federal employees who are performing this difficult work.  And they spoke about the need to break the culture of shame that prevents far too many victims from coming forward and seeking the help that they need and deserve.

My pledge to these dedicated leaders was that their report, and the insights they offered, will not merely go on a shelf – they will provide a solid basis for the Justice Department to take robust action.  In the days ahead, they will guide our efforts to take practical steps to implement – and to institutionalize – the changes we need to gain the trust of survivors, to transform attitudes surrounding these heinous crimes, and to strengthen existing tribal values that women must be respected.  And they will inform our broad-based efforts to keep supporting and building upon the exemplary work that law enforcement leaders, victim advocates, and tribal authorities across the country are doing every day to help us turn the tide.

Like my colleagues throughout the Justice Department, I feel a tremendous sense of urgency on this issue.  So, as we move forward with this critical work, the Department will continue to look to leaders like our Coordination Committee members – and those who serve on the front lines of this struggle – to drive our daily efforts.  We will keep striving to bolster the enduring trust relationship between the United States and sovereign tribes.  And we will remain committed to using every tool at our disposal to prevent sexual assault and help all victims get access to the assistance and support they need.

Friday, November 14, 2014

It is with great excitement that I announce the selection of Rosemarie (Rosie) Hidalgo as the new Deputy Director for Policy with the Office on Violence Against Women. Rosie brings over twenty years of experience working in the movement to end violence against women to this position. From providing direct legal representation to developing strategies and policies that have a national scope and impact, her knowledge and dedication will enhance the federal conversation on combatting violence against women. We are excited that Rosie will join the Office on Violence Against Women in early December, and look forward to our continued collaboration with the field.

Thursday, November 6, 2014
OIP Dir. Melanie Ann Pustay with Amy Bennet, Josh Gerstein, and Elizabeth Hempowicz
Director Melanie Ann Pustay with Panelists Amy Bennett, Josh Gerstein, and Elizabeth Hempowicz

Last week, OIP’s ongoing series of Best Practices Workshops continued with a panel discussion on best practices from the perspective of the FOIA requester. Designed as a part of the United States' Second Open Government National Action Plan commitment to  further modernize FOIA, the best practices workshop series highlights agency achievements on a wide range of FOIA issues in order to share and leverage successful strategies across the government.

President Obama and Attorney General Holder have both emphasized the importance of good customer service in FOIA by calling on agencies to work with requesters “in a spirit of cooperation.” As reported every year in agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports, since the issuance of the President's and Attorney General's 2009 FOIA Memoranda the government overall has taken a number of steps focused on enhancing customer service in the administration of the FOIA.  One of the best ways to hear about these successes and to learn how we can further improve is by listening to the FOIA requester community that we serve. 

Last week's panel which was comprised of representatives from civil society and the media provided agency attendees with the opportunity to do just that. Serving on the panel at this event were Amy Bennett from OpenTheGovernment.org, Elizabeth Hempowicz from the Project on Government Oversight, and Josh Gerstein from Politico. Each detailed the steps and best practices they have seen or would like to see from agencies in their administration of the FOIA.

Though a number of examples were mentioned by the panel, a common theme throughout the workshop was the importance of frequent, substantive, and effective communications by agencies when working through the processing of FOIA requests. The panel highlighted that the ability to discuss details about their request with the agency, such as the scope of the request, the timing of the agency's response, fee issues, or procedural requirements, makes it easier for them to understand the overall process and to work with the agency to identify efficiencies in processing the request.

Since 2010 OIP has issued a number of guidance articles on the importance of good communication and working with requesters in a spirit of cooperation, all of which are available on our guidance page. Many of the examples highlighted by the panel are discussed in these guidance articles, such as the proper procedures for making referrals to other government entities and ensuring that requesters have access to an agency phone number or contact to discuss the status and processing of requests. Agencies should be sure to familiarize themselves with the guidance to ensure they are effectively and efficiently communicating with requesters.

The Best Practices Workshop series will continue on December 9, when a panel of agency personnel will highlight their experiences in implementing technology tools and solutions in order to improve FOIA processing. If you are interested in attending this event, you can register by e-mailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “December Best Practices Workshop.” If you have any questions regarding the series, please contact OIP’s Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

Be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for more information about these events and about other training opportunities offered by OIP.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Tuesday, October 28, 2014

By Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eve Hill for the Civil Rights Division

Too often, qualified Americans with disabilities face barriers to employment, preventing them from participating as full members of our society.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of disability, and requires reasonable accommodations in the workplace when necessary to enable employees with disabilities to do their jobs.  Often, a reasonable accommodation is easy and inexpensive for the employer and makes all the difference for a person with a disability to be able to perform his or her job.  However, managers often remain unaware of their obligation to accommodate workers with disabilities under the ADA.  The story of what happened to Mr. D. illustrates how gaps in ADA training can result in significant harm.

Mr D., a former Parks Maintenance Crew Leader with the city of North Las Vegas, knows how important a reasonable accommodation is to working.  Mr. D. has monocular vision, meaning one of his eyes has limited vision. Even though his employer could and did reasonably accommodate him for years, Mr. D.’s new supervisor unreasonably withdrew the long-time accommodation Mr. D. needed to do his job and, as a result, he was forced out of work. 

For 29 years, Mr. D. worked for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.  Over the years, Mr. D. was promoted from a maintenance crew member to a crew leader.  Two years after he was promoted to crew leader, while the actual duties of his job did not change at all, the licensing requirements for the job were changed to include a commercial driver’s license.  While Mr. D. had a regular driver’s license, he could not get a commercial driver’s license because of his monocular vision.  Mr. D. went to his doctor and got documentation to give to his employer showing that he could not get a commercial driver’s license because of his vision disability.  At his job, there was only one year-round vehicle and one seasonal vehicle that required a commercial driver’s license.  Crew leaders did not usually drive these vehicles.  Because it was not necessary that Mr. D. drive any vehicles that required a commercial driver’s license, his employer granted him an exemption from the requirement.  Eight years later, a new manager took over and told Mr. D. that he had to get a commercial driver’s license or face disciplinary action.  Mr. D. told the new manager about his accommodation because of his visual disability, and even got a new letter from his doctor to give to the manager.  In response, Mr. D. alleged, the manager again told Mr. D. he had to get the commercial driver’s license or face disciplinary action.  Fearing that he would lose his job and his pension, which he would be entitled to after only one more year of working for the city, Mr. D. felt forced to take an early retirement and paid out of pocket into the retirement system for his last year.

After being advised that they would be sued by the Department of Justice, the city of North Las Vegas agreed to pay Mr. D. back the money he paid into the retirement system and compensate him for his emotional distress.  The city also agreed to train its supervisors so they understand their obligations under the ADA to help ensure that all employees with disabilities will be treated fairly.  The city’s responsiveness and cooperation greatly aided speedy resolution of the case.

The Department of Justice’s settlement agreements often require employers and other covered entities to train their staff on ADA requirements.  Employer training of supervisors and managers on how to accommodate workers with disabilities under the ADA is a key to success and such training ensures employees with disabilities can do their jobs and contribute to their workplaces.  With accommodations at work when needed, hard working Americans like Mr. D. contribute as valued members of the workforce, and both justice and economic advancement are served.   

Friday, October 17, 2014

Last week, the White House Open Government Team and OIP co-hosted a proactive disclosure workshop, bringing together a diverse set of government personnel to brainstorm how agencies can improve their processes for proactively providing information to the public.

Attendees at OIP's Proactive Disclosure Event

As a part of his FOIA Memorandum, the President directed agencies to “take affirmative steps to make information public.” Additionally, Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines stressed that “agencies should readily and systematically post information online in advance of any public request” and that “effective FOIA administration belongs to all of us.”

Since the issuance of these memoranda, agencies have engaged in a range of initiatives to improve proactive disclosures. Building off these efforts, and in response to the President’s and Attorney General’s directives, last week’s event brought together various personnel from agency FOIA, open data, and communications offices to discuss their roles in their agency’s proactive disclosure process and how through collaboration they can further improve such processes.

A collaborative agency approach to proactive disclosures was highlighted as a best practice at OIP’s July workshop on this same topic, and encouraging this type of dialogue was the basis for last week’s event. Over the course of the event, participants noted that just their preparation for the workshop provided immediate benefits as even their initial cross-agency collaboration generated new ideas on how to identify and make proactive disclosures.

Attendees at OIP's Proactive Disclosure Event

In the first breakout session of the event, the participants were grouped according to their specialty, with all the FOIA professionals forming one group, the data experts forming another group, and the public relations specialists forming the third group.  Participants discussed best practices they had identified at their agencies as well as common challenges they face with regard to proactive disclosures. When discussing obstacles, participants also brainstormed ideas for overcoming such challenges. During the second breakout session, the participants got back together with their colleagues from their own agencies to discuss what they had learned in the first session and how they could apply those lessons to their own proactive disclosure processes. The participants were all energized about the possibilities that their cross-agency collaboration could achieve.

This event is just one step in our efforts to assist agencies in improving their proactive disclosure process. OIP and the White House Open Government Team will continue to work with the agencies that participated in the event as they apply the information learned and put it into practice. In the future, we will plan to hold additional events on this topic for other interested agencies. We look forward to seeing how the collaboration between and across agency offices can help improve proactive disclosures and access to information.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Tuesday, October 14, 2014

As part of OIP's responsibility to encourage agency compliance with the FOIA, each year we offer a number of regularly scheduled training opportunities designed to educate agency personnel on how to implement the various provisions of the statute. For Fiscal Year 2015, the dates and topics for some of our scheduled training sessions are:

The FOIA for Attorneys and Access Professionals
December 2-3, 2014 
February 24-25, 2015

May 12-13, 2015
July 14-15, 2015

Advanced FOIA Seminar
April 15, 2015

Introduction to the FOIA
March 25, 2015

FOIA Litigation Seminar
October 22, 2014

Each of these seminars will be held in Washington, DC, and are open to all federal government employees. Descriptions of these seminars and training materials are available on the Training page of OIP’s website.

OIP also offers various other training opportunities and workshops throughout the year, such as our Best Practices Workshop series and refresher training on agency Annual FOIA Report and Chief FOIA Officer Report requirements. Details on these and all training opportunities offered by OIP will continue to be announced here on FOIA Post and through OIP’s Twitter account, @FOIAPost.

To register for any of the above training seminars, please e-mail your name to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov. In the subject line of your e-mail, please specify the name and date of the course that you are seeking to attend.  Any questions regarding these training opportunities may also be directed to OIP’s Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post
Friday, October 10, 2014

Sellers of Eagle, Hawk, and Anhinga Feathers Sentenced For Violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Lacey Act

photo of eagle

This week in Phoenix, Arizona, Leo Begay, a tribal member of the Navajo Nation from Tuba City, Arizona, became the last defendant to be sentenced following a nationwide investigation – Operation Silent Wilderness – by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife into the illegal killing and commercialization of protected eagles and other migratory birds.

Begay was sentenced to four months in prison to be followed by two years of supervised release and a fine of $1,000, having earlier pleaded guilty to charges that he sold six feather fans comprised of bald and golden eagles, and federally-protected hawks.  

The investigation was initiated after the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife received a complaint concerning a Navajo tribal member in Arizona who was selling eagle and other migratory bird feathers.  Seven residential search warrants and multiple interviews related to the investigation were conducted, uncovering an illicit trade in migratory bird feathers via the Internet using online services such as MySpace and Yahoo! Mail.

Federal and Tribal law enforcement leaders commented on the operation. 

Sam Hirsch, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division commented:

The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing wildlife laws that forbid the commercialization and exploitation for profit of eagle feathers and other bird parts, which are sacred to the cultural and religious practices of some federally recognized Indian tribes. The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing our nation’s wildlife laws that protect these species for future generations to enjoy, and we are committed to honoring the traditions and cultures of American Indian tribes with whom we share a government-to-government relationship.

Ed Grace, Deputy Assistant Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, stated:

Operation Silent Wilderness has been a model of cooperation between the Service and the Navajo Nation’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.  The results send a strong message to all Americans that we will pursue traders in illegal wildlife products with the full force of the law.  Social networking sites are no safe haven for wildlife traffickers to conduct illegal business.

Gloria M. Tom, Director of the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife commented:

The Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife entered into a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address illegal trafficking of eagle feathers and other bird parts on the Navajo Nation because this activity is impacting the long term viability and sustainability of the golden eagle and other migratory bird populations on our reservation.  The Department’s overall mission is to conserve and protect our wildlife now and in the future and we take this mission very seriously.  We are obligated to protect these sacred birds for our people who use eagles and other migratory birds and their parts legally for religious and ceremonial purposes.  The individuals who are participating in this illegal activity are not concerned with protecting Native American religious rights; they are only concerned with the personal financial benefit they receive from the illegal activity.  Our partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to deter wildlife crimes on the Navajo Nation has been very beneficial to the Navajo Nation with cases like these being successfully prosecuted.  We look forward to this continuing partnership because there is a tremendous amount of illegal activity continuing to occur and the partnership needs to include more efforts to catch the individuals who are killing the birds and making their parts available on the black market.

John Leonardo, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona stated: 

The preservation of protected bird species is of significant importance to all Arizonans and all Americans, and this nationwide collaborative investigation demonstrates our shared commitment to this preservation goal as well as to the protection of American Indian cultural practices.

In 2012, the Department of Justice announced a policy addressing the ability of members of federally-recognized Indian tribes to possess or use eagle feathers, an issue of great cultural significance to many tribes and their members. Attorney General Eric Holder signed the new policy after extensive department consultation with tribal leaders and tribal groups. The policy covers all federally-protected birds, bird feathers and bird parts.  Under the policy, enrolled members of federally recognized American Indian tribes may possess eagle and other migratory bird feathers and parts for religious and ceremonial purposes. 

Federal law otherwise prohibits the possession of eagles and migratory birds, and strictly prohibits the sale of bald and golden eagles, their feathers, or their parts by any person.   The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) prohibits the taking, possession, sale, barter, purchase and transport of bald and golden eagles.  The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) implements Conventions between the United States and four countries (Canada, Mexico, Japan and Russia) for the protection of more than 1,000 migratory bird species.  One such bird, the anhinga, is found in the Florida Everglades as well as in southern swamps and shallow waters.  The MBTA makes it unlawful to, among other things, pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, export, import, or transport migratory birds.  The Lacey Act prohibits, among other things, the sale of wildlife knowing that the wildlife was taken or possessed in violation of any  wildlife-related regulation or law.  

These important laws are enforced by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior and help ensure that eagle and other bird populations remain healthy and sustainable.

Previous prosecutions resulting from Operation Silent Wilderness:

On Aug. 14, 2014, Charley Allen, a Goshute tribal member of Grantsville, Utah was sentenced to 12 months  in prison to be followed by one year of supervised release for selling and offering to sell migratory bird parts including anhinga and hawk feathers in violation of the MBTA.  Allen admitted by his plea on Mar. 20, 2014 in federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah, that he sold four sets of twelve anhinga feathers for $400 per set to two people in Arizona, one of whom was an undercover officer.  Allen also admitted that he offered to sell seven sets of red-tailed, red-shouldered and ferruginous hawk feathers.  Allen communicated via MySpace with an individual in Florida who supplied Allen on multiple occasions with 44 sets of anhinga tail feathers.  

Steven Patrick Garcia, Jr. of San Jose, Calif., similarly communicated with an individual in California via MySpace and sold the individual twelve hawk feathers for $200.  Garcia was sentenced on June 6, 2013 in federal court in Billings, Mont., to 24 months in prison to be followed by one year of supervised release for selling and offering to sell migratory bird parts in violation of the MBTA and the Lacey Act.

Alexander Robert Somers, a Yakama tribal member of White Swan, Wash., was sentenced on Aug. 26, 2013 in federal court in Phoenix, Ariz., to three months in prison, one year supervised release with a condition of three months home confinement, and $10,000 restitution for selling golden eagle parts in violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.  $5,000 of the restitution is to be paid to the Yakama Nation’s Wildlife, Range & Vegetation Resources Management Program.  The remaining $5,000 is to be paid to the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife’s “Operation Game Thief” a program which awards cash rewards to people who provide information which leads to the arrest or citation of any person who unlawfully poaches wildlife on the Navajo Nation. 

The golden eagle feathers sold by Somers were purchased by Darwin James of Kayenta, Ariz. who subsequently sold the feathers to an undercover law enforcement officer.  James was sentenced on Oct. 21, 2013 in federal court in Phoenix to five years of probation and $6,750 restitution for selling migratory bird parts in violation of the MBTA.  James pleaded guilty to the charge on May 6, 2013.  James admitted by his plea that on Feb. 15, 2009, he sold 12 golden eagle tail feathers and twelve red-tailed hawk tail feathers for a total of $650 after exchanging e-mails with a covert law enforcement officer.  According to court documents, James is a Native American residing on the Navajo Nation reservation.    

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, performed more than eight thousand forensic identifications during the course of this investigation and subsequent prosecution of the cases and concluded that a minimum number of nearly 600 individual birds were involved.  The Forensics Laboratory is the only full service crime lab in the world dedicated to crimes against wildlife.  Scientists at the lab identify the species of pieces, parts or products of an animal or bird seized as evidence, determine the cause-of-death, and provide expert testimony in court.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates the National Eagle Repository, which collects eagles that die naturally, by accident or other means, to supply enrolled members of federally recognized American Indian tribes with eagle parts for religious use. 

The cases which resulted from this nationwide investigation were prosecuted by the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern District of Alabama, District of Alaska, District of Arizona, Southern District of Florida, Eastern and Western Districts of Louisiana, District of Montana, District of New Mexico, and the District of Utah.   

Learn more about:

The Department of Justice Eagle Feathers Policy: www.justice.gov/usao/briefing_room/ic/eaglefeathers_factsheet.pdf

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest Region

Working With Tribes

www.fws.gov/southwest/NAL/

Tribal Eagle Aviaries 

www.fws.gov/southwest/NAL/aviaries.html

Non-Eagle Feather Repositories

www.fws.gov/southwest/NAL/feathers.html

National Eagle Repository

www.fws.gov/eaglerepository/index.php

Topic(s):
Tribal Justice
Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October 1st marked the beginning of Fiscal Year 2015, and with the start of the new fiscal year, agencies will begin working on preparing three important reports. The three FOIA reports – the Annual FOIA Report, the Quarterly FOIA Reports, and the Chief FOIA Officer Report – illustrate all the hard work of agencies' FOIA offices over this past year as well as the great work that will be done in the upcoming year.  In order to satisfy their reporting obligations this year, agencies should mark the following deadlines in their calendars:

Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report
December 5, 2014 – Agencies are required to submit their Fiscal Year 2014 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 2015 Quarterly FOIA Reports
January 30, 2015 – Quarter 1 data is required to be posted in accordance with OIP's Guidance
April 24, 2015 – Quarter 2 data is required to be posted in accordance with OIP's Guidance
July 31, 2015 – Quarter 3 data is required to be posted in accordance with OIP's Guidance
October 30, 2015 – Quarter 4 data is required to be posted in accordance with OIP's Guidance

2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports
January 16, 2015 – The twenty-nine high volume agencies noted in the 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines are required to submit their 2015 Reports to OIP for review

February 6, 2015 – All other agencies are required to submit their 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review

March 16, 2015 – Agencies are required to post their 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports online

For guidance on the requirements for completing the 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Report, please see OIP's 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines.

As noted previously on FOIA Post, today OIP held a refresher training for agency personnel on the preparation of both the Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report and the 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Report.

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 see all of these reporting deadlines, as well as training and event dates, on the Key Dates page of OIP’s website.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post
Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The next workshop in OIP’s Best Practices Workshop series is focused on the topic of best practices in FOIA administration from the requester’s perspective. Originally scheduled for Wednesday, October 15th, this event has been moved to Tuesday, October 28th. The updated details for this event are:

FOIA Best Practices Workshop
Best Practices from the Requester's Perspective
Department of Justice, Robert F. Kennedy Building
10th and Constitution, Ave. NW – Great Hall
October 28, 2014, 10:00am – noon

You will need a picture ID to enter the building for this event.

As with the July event, this workshop is open to interested members of the public as well as all agency personnel. If you had previously registered for this event, you will continue to be registered for the new date and OIP’s Training Officer will contact you to confirm your registration.

If you have not yet registered and are interested in attending this event, you can register by e-mailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “October 28th Best Practices Workshop.”  As space for this meeting is limited, registration is required to attend.  If you have any questions regarding this event or the Best Practices series, please contact OIP’s Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

As this series continues, we hope that FOIA professionals continue to learn from one another and the public in order to leverage the successes of others in their own organizations for the overall benefit of FOIA administration across the government. 

Be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for all news about this and future events in the Best Practices series.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post, Open Government
Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines direct agency Chief FOIA Officers to “review all aspects of their agencies’ FOIA administration” and to report each year to the Department of Justice on the steps taken “to improve FOIA operations and facilitate information disclosure at their agencies.”  Pursuant to the Attorney General's Guidelines, each year OIP provides specific guidance on the content and timing of these reports.  Today, we are issuing the guidelines for agencies' 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports.

Over the last five years, OIP’s guidelines for agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports have required agencies to examine five key areas addressed in the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines. These five key areas of FOIA administration include:

  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 Backlogs.

This year’s Chief FOIA Officer Report guidelines continue to build off of the efforts and initiatives reported in previous years and are designed to capture the more advanced steps taken by agencies in their administration of the FOIA.  The Guidelines also continue to focus on certain key areas where further improvements can be made.

For 2015, OIP is making a significant change from prior years' Chief FOIA Officer Reports by creating streamlined reporting requirements for agencies that receive a lower volume of requests, i.e., less than 1,000 incoming requests.  By providing these lower-volume agencies with separate reporting requirements, we can more easily address the realities and needs of agencies with smaller FOIA administrations.  For those agencies with more than 1,000 requests a year, the guidelines continue to be quite comprehensive.  Other new topics in the guidelines include:

  • Agency FOIA Fee Communications,
  • Systems for Proactive Disclosures and Identifying Frequently Requested Records, and
  • Processes for Routing Misdirected Requests at Decentralized Agencies.

OIP has identified twenty-nine agencies that received over 1,000 requests during the most recent year of available data and has listed them in the Guidelines as the “high-volume” agencies.  Those agencies must submit their draft 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review by no later than January 16, 2015.  The remaining agencies, all of which received less than 1,000 requests during the most recent year of available data (and not listed specifically in the Guidelines) must submit their draft reports for review by no later than February 6, 2015.  Additional details on the review and submission process are available in the Guidelines.

OIP will once again host a refresher training seminar on October 7, 2014, covering agency preparation of both the 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports and the Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Reports.  The details for that training are:

Refresher Training for FY 2014 Annual FOIA Reports and 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports
Department of Justice, Robert F. Kennedy Building
10th and Constitution Ave., NW – Great Hall
October 7, 2014, 10:00am – 12:30pm

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 e-mail your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer 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 Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post
Monday, September 8, 2014

This post appears courtesy of Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs.

On September 7, 1974, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was signed into law. This landmark legislation established the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and forever changed the way states and communities deal with at-risk youth and those who are involved in the juvenile justice system.

Thanks to the hard work and enlightened vision of our Office’s many partners in the juvenile justice field, I am happy to report that our nation has made significant strides in ensuring justice and safety for youth, families, and communities.

Today, violent crime arrest rates for youth are at their lowest point since at least 1980. Between 1997 and 2011, the population of youth in residential placement declined by 42 percent, and the number of youth in residential placement for committing status offenses like violating curfew, running away from home, and underage drinking has decreased by 64 percent.

States are enacting policies and strategies to promote alternatives to incarceration, divert youth from detention and secure state-run facilities, and reinvest in community-based services because research has shown that youth who have committed nonviolent offenses are better served—and public safety is more effectively promoted—through community-based services rather than detention and incarceration.

While this progress is certainly cause for celebration, we must continue to vigilantly address the challenges ahead and seize the opportunities before us to improve outcomes for youth while maintaining public safety

One major challenge we continue to face is that two out of every three youth in the United States who are currently in custody are there for nonviolent offenses. Another challenge to be addressed is the rate of confinement for minority youth. Nationwide, the residential placement rate for black youth in 2011 was nearly five times the rate for white youth. The rate for American Indian/Alaska Native youth was more than three times and the rate for Hispanic youth was nearly twice that for white youth.

At the same time, recent advances in scientific and evidence-based practices have given us a clear roadmap for reform. Research has shown that most youth grow out of risk-taking behavior as they mature. Because their brains are still developing, young people are more capable of rehabilitation than adults. We have also realized that many youth who come into contact with our juvenile justice system have long histories of exposure to violence, crime, and abuse. We understand far more now than we did even five years ago about the effects of trauma on the developing brain and how best to intervene in a child’s life before permanent damage can be done.

We are very optimistic about what lies ahead. We embrace the rising tide of system reform and transformation we are seeing in states across our nation. Our Office is working vigorously with all of our partners in the field to more fully incorporate the science of adolescent development and trauma into juvenile justice reform.

Let us continue to build on this momentum.

Working together, we will forge a future in which justice and safety are a fact of life for all our nation’s children.

For additional 40th anniversary resources from OJJDP, visit www.ojjdp.gov/JJDPAis40.html

Monday, September 8, 2014

As part of the Second Open Government National Action Plan's commitment to modernizing FOIA, we have been working on a number of initiatives this summer that will further improve the overall administration of the FOIA for both agencies and requesters. One of these initiatives is the development of a consolidated FOIA service for making requests. 

Currently one hundred agencies are subject to the FOIA, and requesters must submit their FOIA requests directly to each agency. Through the National Action Plan, the Administration has committed to launching a consolidated request portal that will allow the public to submit a request to any federal agency from a single website and that includes additional tools to improve the customer experience. 

The Department of Justice and a number of other agencies have been working closely on this project with a dedicated team from the General Services Administration’s 18F group, which help “agencies deliver on their mission through the development of digital and web services.” The team has been exploring building tools that improve the FOIA request submission experience, that create scalable infrastructure for making requests to agencies, and that make it easier for requesters to find records and other information that have already been made available online. 

The team from 18F has posted a blog post about the great work they have been doing on 18F's website. Be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for updates on this and other FOIA initiatives from the Second Open Government National Action Plan.

Topic(s):
FOIA Post
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