Assessing Agency Efforts in Implementing the FOIA Guidelines

September 17, 2013

With the issuance of his 2009 FOIA Guidelines, Attorney General Holder directed agency Chief FOIA Officers to annually 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.”  For the last four years, these Chief FOIA Officer Reports have provided detailed descriptions of the efforts undertaken to improve the administration of the FOIA at each agency.  OIP has once again prepared a summary and assessment of the progress made by agencies in implementing the FOIA Guidelines based on a review of each agency’s 2013 Chief FOIA Officer Report.

First introduced in 2010 after the review of agencies’ first Chief FOIA Officer Reports, OIP’s annual summary contains a description of agency activities, highlights notable examples of progress, and uses data from agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports as well as the most recent Annual FOIA Reports to describe a range of FOIA activity from the preceding year.  Starting with 2011 OIP began assessing agency progress in key milestones tied to the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines, by assigning a green, yellow, or red score on multiple milestones.  The assessment was first done for the fifteen Federal Departments and then expanded the past two years to include all agencies subject to the FOIA.  Standard benchmarks such as reduction in backlogs and closing of the ten oldest requests have been evaluated each year by OIP and are joined by new metrics as agency progress in certain areas is taken into account. 

As with last year’s assessment, for 2013 OIP has included a guidance to assist agencies in making further improvements in the years ahead.  The 2013 assessment provides a “visual snapshot” of agency efforts in five key areas of FOIA administration, specifically:

  • applying the presumption of openness,
  • effectively responding to requests,
  • making information available proactively,
  • utilizing technology, and
  • reducing backlogs and improving timeliness. 

A new feature included in this year’s assessment is the addition of the total number of agencies that received each grade for each metric.  This information can be found on the last page of the assessment.  Additionally, this year’s assessment has also been released in an open, machine readable (CSV) format

OIP’s assessment “is designed to provide a visual snapshot of several key areas of agency FOIA administration, and is meant to be read in conjunction with [agency] Chief FOIA Officer Reports.”  This year, our review found that:

"During these times of lean resources, and as the government overall continues to face ever-increasing numbers of incoming FOIA requests, agencies have persevered and  identified efficiencies that have enabled them to process more requests, reduce response times, and lower backlogs of pending requests.  Moreover, this has all been accomplished while agencies continued to release records in full or in part in response to over 92% of requests processed for disclosure.  To be sure, there are variations in the level of success achieved by the agencies and there is still more work that can be done. . . .This assessment is intended to guide agencies in identifying those areas where further work is needed."

Through the continued assessment of agencies on a wide variety of factors that contribute to the improvement of transparency and information disclosure, the public and agencies themselves can easily see where progress has been achieved, and where work remains, in agency efforts to improve FOIA administration.

You can read the 2013 Chief FOIA Officer Report Summary and Assessment, along with summaries and assessments from previous years, success stories from the Chief FOIA Officer Reports, and the Reports themselves on our Reports page.

Topic(s): 
FOIA Post
Open Government