As a follow-up to the statements of FOIA policy that were issued by President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno in October 1993, the Attorney General has reiterated the importance of the Administration's FOIA policy to all federal agencies.
In early May, Attorney General Reno sent a memorandum to the heads of all federal departments and agencies that reminded them of the fundamental principles of openness in government and of "the Administration's policy of striving for the maximum responsible disclosure of information under the FOIA." She called upon all federal agencies to "place a sustained priority on [their] FOIA administration responsibilities," both through continued adherence to these principles and through needed attention to agency backlogs of pending FOIA requests.
Attorney General Reno's memorandum to all agencies stated in part:
. . . I urge you to be sure to continue our strong commitment to the openness-in-government principles that President Clinton and I established on October 4, 1993. These principles include applying customer-service attitudes toward FOIA requesters, following the spirit as well as the letter of the Act, and applying a presumption of disclosure in FOIA decision making. Most significant is that an agency should make a discretionary disclosure of exempt information whenever it is possible to do so without foreseeable harm to any interest that is protected by a FOIA exemption; an agency should withhold information under the FOIA only when it is necessary to do
so. . . .These principles remain vital to the continued success of our FOIA policy.
In reemphasizing these principles of FOIA administration, the Attorney General included copies of the FOIA policy statements that were issued by her and by President Clinton in 1993. She specifically asked all department and agency heads to redistribute these policy statements throughout their departments and agencies, and in so doing to especially ensure that they are brought to the attention of each agency's recent appointees.
This provides FOIA officers at all agencies with additional support in their continuing efforts to pursue the making of discretionary disclosures of exempt information through application of the foreseeable harm standard in their day-to-day administration of the Act.
At the same time, the Attorney General also brought to the department and agency heads' attention the requirements of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-231, 110 Stat. 3048.
Her memorandum advised of the most significant of these amendments to the FOIA -- including the Electronic FOIA amendments pertaining to new "reading room" treatment for certain FOIA-processed records, new electronic availability of newly created reading room records in "electronic reading rooms," and new procedures governing the timing of agency responses to FOIA requests -- and it specified the different effective dates applicable to the amendments' different provisions.
Agencies are now in the process of implementing the Electronic FOIA amendments through such activities as the development of World Wide Web sites for "electronic reading room" purposes and the promulgation of implementing regulations at each agency.
In implementation of the Electronic FOIA amendments, the Department of Justice has prepared a complete revision of its FOIA and Privacy Act regulations that also will make the language of these regulations more "user-friendly" in accordance with the principles of the National Performance Review. These proposed regulations should be available through the Department of Justice's site on the World Wide Web (accessible at http://www.usdoj.gov) very soon.
Also to be found on the Justice Department's website is the Department's FOIA Reference Guide, which describes the procedural aspects of making a FOIA request, specifies the different types of records that are maintained by the Justice Department's many components, and describes the types of records and information that are available to the public from the Justice Department without the necessity of making a FOIA request. In its electronic form, this guide for potential FOIA requesters can contain convenient World Wide Web links to other related reference documents that are available through on-line access, such as the Department's FOIA regulations, its annual FOIA report, and an up-to-date list of the FOIA offices at other federal agencies.
The four center pages of this issue of FOIA Update contain an updated list of the principal FOIA administrative and legal contacts at federal agencies.
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