2003 Compliance Report

Description Of Department Of Justice Efforts To Encourage Agency Compliance With The Act

 

During 2003, the Department of Justice, primarily through its Office of Information and Privacy (OIP), engaged in a wide range of activities in meeting the Department's responsibility to encourage agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2000),amended by 5 U.S.C.A. § 552(a)(3)(A), (E) (West Supp. 2003), throughout the executive branch. A summary description of these activities, which is required by subsection (e)(5) of the Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552(e)(5), is set forth below.

(a) Counseling and Consultations

One of the primary means by which the Department of Justice encouraged agency compliance with the FOIA during 2003 was through OIP's counseling activities, which were conducted largely over the telephone by experienced OIP attorneys known to FOIA personnel throughout the executive branch as "FOIA Counselors." Through this FOIA Counselor service, OIP provided information, advice, and policy guidance to FOIA personnel at all federal departments and agencies, as well as to other persons with questions regarding the proper interpretation or implementation of the Act. OIP has established a special telephone line to facilitate its FOIA Counselor service -- (202) 514-3642 (514-FOIA) -- which it publicizes widely. (OIP also receives telefaxed FOIA Counselor inquiries, at (202) 514-1009, and it maintains a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) telephone line -- (202) 616-5498 -- which gives it the capability of receiving TDD calls from speech- or hearing-impaired persons.) While most of this counseling was conducted by telephone, other options were made available as well. In summary, the counseling services provided by OIP during the year consisted of the following:

(1) OIP continued to provide basic FOIA Counselor guidance on a broad range of FOIA-related subjects, including emerging issues pertaining to information of homeland security sensitivity. Most of the FOIA Counselor calls received by OIP involve issues that are raised in connection with proposed agency responses to initial FOIA requests or administrative appeals, but many are more general anticipatory inquiries regarding agency responsibilities and administrative practices under the Act. (The Department of Justice specifies that all agencies intending to deny FOIA requests raising novel issues should consult with OIP to the extent practicable -- see 28 C.F.R. § 0.23a(b) (2003) -- and it has been found that such consultations are very valuable in encouraging agency compliance with the Act.) More than 3000 requests for assistance were received by OIP and handled in this way during 2003, a continued large volume of such inquiries in comparison to those received in previous years.

(2) Frequently, a FOIA Counselor inquiry is of such complexity or arises at such a level that it warrants the direct involvement of OIP's supervisory personnel, often one or both of its co-directors or its deputy director. Approximately 350 inquiries of this nature were handled in 2003.

(3) Sometimes a determination is made that a FOIA Counselor inquiry requires more extensive discussion and analysis by OIP attorneys, including supervisory attorneys, on the basis of the information that is presented by the agency. Such a consultation involves a meeting or teleconference between agency representatives and senior OIP attorneys at which all factual, legal, and policy issues related to the matter presented are thoroughly discussed and resolved. There were sixty-one such more formal consultations in 2003, including nineteen with the general counsel or deputy general counsel of the agency involved. In addition, OIP provided consultation assistance to the Chairman of the National Security Council's Coordinating Committee on Records Access and Information Security, the Director of the Terrorist Screening Center, the Acting Director of the Foreign Terrorism Tracking Task Force, both the Chief Privacy Officer and the Chief Information Officer of the Department of Homeland Security, the Inspector General of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the Director of the Department of Energy's Blackout Task Force, the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office, the Chairman of the President's Information Security Classification Appeals Panel, a Deputy Independent Counsel, and the Deputy Corporation Counsel for the District of Columbia during the year.

(4) An additional counseling service provided by OIP pertains to FOIA matters in litigation, where advice and guidance are provided at the request of and in close coordination with the Department of Justice's litigating divisions. This service involves OIP reviewing issues and proposed litigation positions in a case from both legal and policy standpoints, and then recommending positions that promote uniform and proper agency compliance with the Act. In many such instances, OIP is asked to consult on litigation strategy and in the drafting of briefs or petitions to be filed at the district court or appellate court levels. Further, OIP is consulted in all instances in which the Department of Justice must decide whether to pursue a FOIA or FOIA-related issue on appeal. OIP also is regularly consulted in all FOIA cases, and regarding all FOIA-related issues, that are handled by the Office of the Solicitor General before the United States Supreme Court. Most often, these litigation consultations are provided by one or both of OIP's co-directors. There were approximately 125 such litigation consultations in 2003, including thirty-nine that involved recommendations as to the advisability of initial or further appellate court review and eight that involved the question of whether to seek or oppose certiorari review in the Supreme Court. In two cases that were accepted by the Supreme Court for review, OIP provided extensive assistance to the Office of the Solicitor General in the development, briefing, and presentation of the Department's positions on the merits of the FOIA issues involved.

(b) Policy Guidance

During 2003, the Department of Justice issued policy and advisory discussions of FOIA issues for the guidance of all federal agencies, using its FOIA Post online publication as its primary means of policy dissemination. The major policy issued during the year was a guidance memorandum transmitted by the Department to federal law enforcement agencies and agency components on the highly sensitive subject of the protection of Federal Witness Security Program information under the FOIA. OIP worked with the United States Marshals Service to develop regulations implementing new information-protection provisions of the Witness Security Reform Act, see 28 C.F.R. § 0.111b(b), and in 2003 it took pains to ensure that all relevant law enforcement agencies properly understand and apply these special statutory and regulatory nondisclosure provisions in their administration of the FOIA. This guidance memorandum specifically addressed several different types of FOIA requests that can implicate witness-security concerns, either directly or indirectly, and it provided detailed instructions on the proper handling of all such requests that might be received, including through use of a "Glomarization" (i.e., "neither confirm nor deny") response where warranted.

A second major policy area addressed in 2003 was the preparation of annual FOIA reports by federal agencies in accordance with the requirements of the Electronic FOIA amendments. In the wake of the massive governmentwide reorganization conducted under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which affected nearly two dozen federal departments and agencies, OIP issued special guidance designed for the use of those departments and agencies in the preparation of their annual FOIA reports. In order to preserve governmentwide uniformity in agency-by-agency reporting under these extraordinary circumstances, OIP advised all affected agency components to report all of their statistical data for the entire year to the department or agency of which they were a part as of the end of the fiscal year in which the reorganization took place. And in order to avoid confusion on the part of any annual report reader, OIP also provided a standard explanatory footnote on reorganization-related matters to be used by agencies in their reports wherever applicable. See FOIA Post, "Annual Report Guidance for DHS-Related Agencies" (posted 8/8/03). Additionally, OIP addressed several other questions of more general applicability on this subject during the year. It issued guidance on such annual reporting topics as the use of total employee benefits in the calculation of annual FOIA costs; the deduction of any employee time and costs allocable to nonaccess matters handled under the Privacy Act of 1974; the proper reporting of FOIA administrative appeal dispositions; the proper handling of errors and statistical discrepancies; and the use of multiple-components charts by large, decentralized agencies. See FOIA Post, "FOIA Counselor Q&A: Annual FOIA Reports" (posted 12/19/03). This guidance also was coordinated with OIP's support of a General Accounting Office (GAO) study of agency annual FOIA reporting that was conducted during the year.

A third major policy area, one that also was addressed at a FOIA Officers Conference conducted by OIP in June 2003, was the safeguarding and protection of homeland security-related information. OIP advised all agencies of the new "Exemption 3 statute" protection for the new category of "critical infrastructure information" that was enacted as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, both discussing its substantive scope and at the same time providing timely governmentwide notice of the exact timetable adopted by the executive branch for different stages of the Homeland Security Act's reorganization implementation. See FOIA Post, "Homeland Security Law Contains New Exemption 3 Statute" (posted 1/27/03). This guidance also addressed the growing legal basis for application of the constitutional doctrine of preemption for the protection of federal information that otherwise would be subject to disclosure under state open records laws. See id. (citing Freedom of Information Act Guide & Privacy Act Overview (May 2002), at 563-64). Later in the year, after conducting a governmentwide gathering of FOIA officers to discuss such issues, OIP issued further guidance that surveyed the landscape of both current and prospective FOIA-related matters pertaining to homeland security and national security -- covering recent litigation activity, legislative developments, and matters of current policy significance. See FOIA Post, "FOIA Officers Conference Held on Homeland Security" (posted 7/3/03).

Ancillary to this, OIP also provided specialized guidance to the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the development of its FOIA regulations upon its establishment in 2003. Due to the extraordinary timetable involved, and the resource limitations under which DHS operated at the outset of its existence as a newly formed department, OIP provided extensive drafting assistance in this process and ready use was made of the Justice Department's own FOIA regulations as a model for DHS to follow. Similarly, OIP provided exceptional policy support to DHS in the development of its "critical infrastructure information" regulations in implementation of section 214 of the Homeland Security Act during the year.

Additionally, during 2003, OIP provided policy guidance to agencies also on such subjects as the development and proper use of the exceptional "survivor privacy" principle of privacy protection under Exemptions 6 and 7(C) of the FOIA, see FOIA Post, "Supreme Court Decides to Hear 'Survivor Privacy' Case" (posted 5/13/03); the development and proper handling of new statutory nondisclosure provisions under Exemption 3 of the FOIA, see FOIA Post, "Agencies Rely on Wide Range of Exemption 3 Statutes" (posted 12/16/03); and several distinct aspects of agencies' compliance with their "reading room" obligations under subsection (a)(2)(D) of the Act, see FOIA Post, "FOIA Counselor Q&A: 'Frequently Requested' Records" (posted 7/25/03).

(c) FOIA Post

In 2003, the Department of Justice completed its second full year of publishing FOIA Post, its more high-tech and cost-efficient replacement for its longtime FOIA Update newsletter. The Department's FOIA Update newsletter was published from 1979 to 2000 in a paper format that became increasingly antiquated with the passage of time, so the Department instituted FOIA Post as a novel and more effective means of disseminating FOIA information to federal agencies and other interested parties through use of the Department's FOIA Web site. FOIA Post now serves as the primary means of FOIA policy dissemination and as a highly efficient vehicle for communicating with agency FOIA personnel and others who are interested in the Act's administration. It includes the same types of FOIA guidance and information features that were disseminated in paper form through FOIA Update, as well as additional FOIA-related features, and it does so in a more efficient electronic form that also makes very effective use of electronic links to referenced documents and other sources of information in a Web-based format. This evolution to Web-based information dissemination for the FOIA not only takes advantage of the cost-efficiencies of electronic communication, it also is in keeping with the Act's growing emphasis on the disclosure of agency information to the public electronically, through use of the World Wide Web, under the provisions of the Electronic FOIA amendments. Just as individual agency FOIA Web sites have become a vital means by which the FOIA is administered at all federal agencies, all agencies now look to the Justice Department's FOIA Web site for the most recent postings of information on matters of governmentwide FOIA administration. The Department emphasizes this point in all of its training programs as well as at its FOIA Officers Conferences, and it recommends that this part of its FOIA Web site (www.usdoj.gov/oip/foiapost/mainpage.htm) be electronically bookmarked by all agency FOIA personnel and others interested in the Act for this purpose. The response to readily accessing FOIA Post in this fashion has been very positive, from both government and nongovernment users alike.

During 2003, OIP disseminated a variety of different items for the guidance of federal agencies through FOIA Post. In addition to several substantive policy guidance memoranda discussed above, OIP used this electronic publication portal to distribute, on a quarterly basis throughout the year, newly prepared summaries of all current FOIA decisions received by OIP. See, e.g., FOIA Post, "New FOIA Decisions, January-March 2003" (posted 4/2/03). Further, OIP prepared and published such summaries for FOIA decisions that were handed down during past years as well, in compilations covering six-month periods at a time, see, e.g., FOIA Post, "Compiled FOIA Decisions (Received January-June 1995)" (posted 1/16/03), as part of a multi-year reference project that was begun soon after the inauguration of FOIA Post. During 2003, OIP accelerated its work on this project and published a total of thirteen additional such retrospective compilations to cover a fifteen-year period, from 1989 through 2003. See FOIA Post, "Compilations of FOIA Decisions Now Cover Past Fifteen Years" (posted 12/31/03).

Another major guidance tool disseminated through FOIA Post during 2003 was OIP's summary compilation of the information contained in the annual FOIA reports that are prepared by all federal departments and agencies in accordance with the amended annual reporting requirements of the Act. Although the Electronic FOIA amendments do not require that it do so, OIP initiated the practice of compiling aggregate summaries of all agencies' annual FOIA report data as soon as those reports are filed by all agencies each year. In 2003, OIP prepared summaries of agency reports covering Fiscal Year 2002 (the filing deadline for which was February 1, 2003) and in conjunction with this also emphasized the importance of all agencies heeding the Act's requirements for the completion of their annual FOIA reports in a timely fashion. See FOIA Post, "Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for Fiscal Year 2002" (posted 9/03/03).

Through FOIA Post, OIP also provided governmentwide notification of FOIA training opportunities during the year; it provided similar notice of a governmentwide FOIA Officers Conference; it presented a survey discussion of agency use of "Exemption 3 statutes" governmentwide; it promoted full and proper implementation of the Electronic FOIA amendments by all federal agencies; it provided updates on FOIA-related GAO activity; it advised agencies on corrective steps to be taken upon the discovery of any incorrect past reliance on statutory authority; and it disseminated descriptive analyses of all FOIA-related activity in the United States Supreme Court. Also published in FOIA Post during 2003 was an analytical discussion of the amendment of the executive order that governs national security classification (and is incorporated into Exemption 1 of the FOIA), Executive Order 12,958, amended by Executive Order 13,292, 68 Fed. Reg. 15,315 (Mar. 28, 2003), which additionally traced the history of such executive orders over the past half-century. See FOIA Post, "Executive Order on National Security Classification Amended" (posted 4/11/03).

Lastly, during 2003, OIP greatly expanded its use of a newly developed FOIA Post feature through which it regularly disseminates descriptions of Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act-related positions that are available at federal agencies, in an effort to facilitate the hiring of highly qualified attorneys and access professionals to work in the FOIA and Privacy Act areas throughout the federal government. See, e.g., FOIA Post, "FOIA/Privacy Act Positions Available at Federal Agencies" (posted 12/12/03). A total of twenty-one such FOIA-related employment openings were publicized through thirteen such postings during the year.

(d) Additional FOIA Reference Materials

In 2003, OIP made arrangements with the Government Printing Office (GPO) for the next revision of its major reference volume, entitled the Freedom of Information Act Guide & Privacy Act Overview, which contains the "Justice Department Guide to the Freedom of Information Act." It arranged for this next edition of the Guide & Overview to be published by GPO in May 2004, at which time it is expected that GPO will be able to facilitate the printing and governmentwide distribution of this reference volume on a more efficient timetable than in the past. During 2003, OIP also began editorial preparations for the completion of the Guide & Overview's new edition.

OIP took a number of other steps to further the availability of reference tools for purposes of FOIA administration during the year. In recognition of the continued importance of full governmentwide implementation of the Electronic FOIA amendments (E-FOIA), it created a special Web-based compendium of information resources to guide agencies in their continuing E-FOIA implementation activities; most significantly, this new consolidated E-FOIA guidance site took full advantage of the electronic linkage capability of FOIA Post by providing direct links to all cited items, thereby allowing immediate reference to them. See FOIA Post, "Electronic Compilation of E-FOIA Implementation Guidance" (posted 2/28/03). It also conducted a special governmentwide review of all agencies' Web sites during the year to ensure that their "main home pages" contained direct links to their FOIA home pages in all cases, as is necessary for proper FOIA administration. And it announced plans for the consolidation of its fifteen years of FOIA case summaries for the years 1989 through 2003 into a single case compilation, to be both alphabetized in the aggregate and divided according to type of court, and for the development of a specialized search engine permitting keyword searches throughout this new research compilation. See FOIA Post, "Compilations of FOIA Decisions Now Cover Past Fifteen Years" (posted 12/31/03).

For additional reference purposes, during 2003, all issues of FOIA Update for the years 1979-2000 were made available on the Justice Department's FOIA Web site, where they were fully accessible electronically -- and keyword searchable -- as an aid to ready research. Additionally, guidance items from FOIA Update (and now also from FOIA Post) were used in all Justice Department FOIA-training programs and were made available through such programs offered by the Graduate School of the United States Department of Agriculture and by the American Society of Access Professionals nationwide. Similarly, OIP made copies of the Freedom of Information Act Guide & Privacy Act Overview available to governmentwide training participants without cost through the Justice Department's FOIA-training programs. And at the end of 2003, OIP also announced plans for the development of an overall search engine for FOIA Post that will permit it to be used as a comprehensive research tool just as its predecessor publication FOIA Update is now used.

Also made available on the Department's FOIA Web site during 2003 was the "Department of Justice Freedom of Information Act Reference Guide," which was developed in accordance with the Electronic FOIA amendments and is a model for the counterpart reference guides that are prepared by other federal agencies. This reference tool for potential FOIA requesters describes the procedural aspects of making a FOIA request, specifies the different types of records that are maintained by the Department of Justice's many components, and describes the types of records and information that are available to the public from the Department without the necessity of making a FOIA request. It consists of fourteen pages, plus five detailed attachments, and it contains much information that is readily adaptable for use by all other federal agencies in their own FOIA reference guides. An updated edition of this publication was issued by OIP in November 2003; further, its earlier edition was supplemented electronically during the year with additional information pertaining to the Justice Department's "major information systems," in accordance with a provision of the Electronic FOIA amendments, 5 U.S.C. § 552(g)(1). It also was used by the nations of Mexico, Japan, and the United Kingdom in their work on the implementation of their new Freedom of Information Act-like statutes during the year.

In accordance with another provision of the Electronic FOIA amendments, 5 U.S.C. § 552(e)(3), the Justice Department in 2003 maintained "a single electronic access point" for the consolidated availability of the annual FOIA reports of all federal agencies. In furtherance of this (though not in all respects required by the Act), OIP receives a copy of each agency's annual FOIA report each year, reviews it for correctness and completeness, and then makes all such reports promptly available at its central electronic site. These annual FOIA reports, beginning with those for Fiscal Year 1998, are organized by the Justice Department and made readily accessible to the public on the Department's FOIA Web site, at www.usdoj.gov/oip/04_6.html. In close coordination with GAO, OIP in 2003 further enhanced its practice of reviewing all agencies' annual reports as they are sent to it for this electronic availability purpose, and then contacting individual agencies to discuss and resolve any identified question or discrepancy with them. It did so in accordance with a 2002 GAO report entitled "Update on the Implementation of the 1996 Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments," which encouraged such discretionary OIP review activities and found that they "have resulted in improvements to both the quality of agencies' annual reports and on-line availability of information." Id. at 62. A follow-up GAO study conducted during 2003 (but not completed in published form until 2004) likewise found improvements in agencies' annual reporting due to OIP's governmentwide review efforts.

(e) Training and Public Presentations

During 2003, OIP furnished speakers and workshop instructors for a variety of seminars, conferences, public broadcasts, individual agency training sessions, and similar programs designed to promote the proper administration of the FOIA within the executive branch and/or a greater understanding of the Act's administration outside the executive branch, including internationally. Seventeen professional staff members of OIP gave a total of 122 training presentations during the year, including at several training sessions designed to meet the specific FOIA-training needs of individual agencies. Such individualized training sessions were conducted for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Archives and Records Administration, the Defense Legal Agency, the Forest Service, and the Social Security Administration; for the Departments of the Interior, Energy, Labor, State, Homeland Security, and the Air Force; and for several individual components of the Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. OIP training presentations also were made at the Annual Convention of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, at the annual Business Information Training Day program of the American Society of Access Professionals, at the Sweet & Maxwell's Privacy Conference, at a United States Attorney's Client Agency Conference, and at the Eighteenth Annual Federal Dispute Resolution Conference.

Additionally, the co-directors of OIP gave a total of 117 presentations at a variety of FOIA-training programs and other forums for the discussion of government information policies and practices, including those held by the Brookings Institution, George Mason University, the Graduate School of Public Administration at American University, the College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, the Freedom Forum, the National Press Club, the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism, the Foreign Press Center, the American Society of Access Professionals, and the Army Judge Advocate General's School. They made key presentations at the Department of Labor Annual FOIA Conference, NASA's Annual FOIA Conference, the Transportation Security Administration Annual FOIA Conference, the Annual Symposium of the American Society of Access Professionals, the U.S./Canada/Mexico Commission on Environmental Cooperation's Transboundary Law Enforcement Workshop, the Department of Homeland Security's First Annual FOIA Conference, the American Society of Newspaper Editors' "Freedom of Information Summit," and the Freedom Forum's "Annual Freedom of Information Day Celebration." They also made appearances on C-SPAN, international video conference broadcasts, foreign television network programs ("TV Azteca," broadcast in Mexico), and the Federal News Radio program "FEDtalk" in publicly discussing the Department's FOIA administration, most particularly regarding post-9/11 secrecy concerns, and gave related interviews to print media in coordination with the Department's Office of Public Affairs. During the year, one of OIP's co-directors also gave an interview for a major segment of a documentary on international openness in government produced by KBS (the Korean Broadcast System) for broadcast in Seoul, Korea.

In conjunction with the Justice Department's National Advocacy Center, OIP conducted a wide range of FOIA-training programs in 2003, ranging from half-day introductory sessions for non-FOIA personnel to advanced programs for highly experienced FOIA personnel. OIP's basic two-day training course, entitled "The Freedom of Information Act for Attorneys and Access Professionals," was conducted several times during 2003 in Columbia, South Carolina (the base location of the National Advocacy Center), and in Washington, D.C. as well. OIP also conducted two sessions in 2003 of its "Freedom of Information Act Administrative Forum," a training program devoted almost entirely to administrative matters arising under the Act -- such matters as record-retrieval practices, multitrack queue usage, backlog management, affirmative disclosure, and automated record processing. Designed to serve also as a forum for the governmentwide exchange of ideas and information on all matters of FOIA administration, this training program regularly brings together veteran FOIA processors from throughout the government and encourages them to share their experience in administering the Act on a daily basis. Also conducted twice in 2003 was OIP's "Advanced Freedom of Information Act Seminar," which featured presentations by the Director of the Freedom of Information Service Center of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and by the Freedom of Information Act Coordinator of the National Security Archive on the administration of the FOIA from the perspective of a FOIA requesters. These programs also contained a special segment covering the electronic availability and annual FOIA reporting requirements of the Electronic FOIA amendments as addressed by the GAO reports discussed above.

Lastly, as is referenced above, OIP also held a FOIA Officers Conference for the principal FOIA officers of all federal agencies as a major training activity on the subject of homeland security during the year. It reviewed and discussed the wide range of FOIA-related issues, policies, and legal authorities on homeland security and overall matters of government secrecy that have arisen since September 11, 2001. In so doing, it placed special focus on the role of the new Department of Homeland Security, and its potential interrelations with other federal agencies, in activities that pertain either directly or indirectly to the administration of the FOIA. This conference was attended by representatives of nearly all federal agencies and it was conducted by the co-directors of OIP together with a senior director of the National Security Council. See FOIA Post, "FOIA Officers Conference Held on Homeland Security" (posted 7/3/03).

(f) Briefings and Interagency Coordination Activities

OIP conducted a number of general or specific FOIA briefings during 2003 for persons interested in the operation of the Act, such as representatives of foreign governments concerned with the implementation or potential adoption of their own government information access laws. OIP provided briefings and FOIA materials in seventeen such sessions to representatives of the nations of Japan, Peru, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Hong Kong, Bosnia-Herzegovina, South Korea, Thailand, Poland, Israel, China, and Australia. It also provided such briefings to the Comptroller of the Mexican Senate, Members of the Parliament of Uganda, Members of the Parliament of Indonesia, and a Mexican Transparency Commissioner. And at the request of the China Law Center of Yale Law School, and in coordination with the Department of State, OIP's deputy director traveled to Shanghai, China in order to engage in several days of discussions of openness-in-government principles with both national and provincial officials, including the substantive review of draft legislation, in preparation of the "open government information" law scheduled to be adopted there in mid-2004.

Additionally, in 2003 OIP conducted briefings on FOIA policy for the Department of Energy in connection with its investigation of the August 2003 power blackout; it briefed a special review team from another cabinet department on measures to improve that department's FOIA operations; it briefed officials of yet another cabinet department on improvements that could be made in its FOIA administrative appeals function; it briefed representatives of a new cabinet department on the establishment of a consolidated FOIA function; it continued to provide briefing and consultation assistance to the District of Columbia Government in connection with administrative reform of the operation of its statutory counterpart to the Freedom of Information Act; it conducted a final review session on an executive order at the request of the National Security Council; it conducted an editorial review of a homeland security publication for the American Bar Association's Section of Administrative Law; it conducted a luncheon debate for a government and public audience on the topic of homeland security secrecy; it participated in the Annenberg Public Policy Center's Media Dialogue Group; it participated in the DHS Critical Infrastructure Information Working Group; it participated in an international program on government transparency held in London; it provided briefings on the mechanics of transparency implementation to representatives of the British Department for Constitutional Affairs (formerly the Lord Chancellor's Office) both in the United States and in the U.K.; it was interviewed for a doctoral dissertation on FOIA administration; it attended several interagency meetings on information policy issues in support of the Office of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Transition Planning Office, and the new Department of Homeland Security; it provided briefings both within the Department and to other agencies on matters pertaining to proposed legislation; and it conducted multiple briefing sessions, and provided other forms of assistance, in support of GAO's FOIA-related activities throughout the year. And in 2003 one of OIP's co-directors served on the Governance Board of the Business Gateway Initiative, a governmentwide "E-Government" program conducted under the auspices of OMB.

During 2003, OIP also engaged in other interagency coordination activities in FOIA-related areas. As an outgrowth of the FOIA Officers Conference that it conducted on the subject of homeland security in mid-2003, and to serve the need for continuing governmentwide coordination in this area of growing importance, OIP formed an interagency working group on homeland security-related FOIA issues. This newly created FOIA Officers Homeland Security Information Group (FOHSIG) is comprised of representatives of a dozen agencies who now gather regularly at meetings hosted by OIP to exchange information and discuss upcoming matters pertaining to homeland security-related information policies and practices. The FOHSIG met three times beginning in the second half of 2003 and plans to continue to meet approximately every two months in the future.

Another new interagency coordination activity commenced by OIP in 2003 was its efforts to coordinate governmentwide record-review activities by federal agencies under section 586 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, Pub. L. No. 108-7, 117 Stat. 11, 215-16 (2003), concerning the murders of American churchwomen and other American citizens in El Salvador and Guatemala since December 1999. This new law called upon all federal agencies to identify relevant classified records pertaining to the murders and to review them for possible declassification, consistent with existing nondisclosure standards, for release to the victims' families. Upon a delegation of authority from the President, and in turn on behalf of the Attorney General, OIP conducted several interagency meetings, provided administrative and procedural guidance, and served as the principal coordination authority for the implementation of this statutory scheme throughout the executive branch.

(g) Congressional and Public Inquiries

In 2003, OIP responded to fifteen congressional inquiries pertaining to FOIA-related matters and, in its "FOIA Ombudsman" capacity, see FOIA Update, Vol. XIV, No. 3, at 8, it responded to nine complaints received from members of the public who were concerned that an agency had failed to comply with the requirements of the Act. In all such instances involving a concern of agency noncompliance, the matter was discussed with the agency and, wherever appropriate, a recommendation was made regarding the steps needed to be taken by the agency in order to bring it into proper compliance. Additionally, OIP responded to nearly one hundred written inquiries from members of the public seeking information regarding the basic operation of the Act or related matters during the year, as well as to innumerable such inquiries received by telephone.

 

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