President Obama's FOIA Memorandum | Attorney General Holder's FOIA Guidelines | President Obama's Transparency Initiative | DOJ's Open Government Plan | OIP's Efforts to Promote Transparency
President Obama's FOIA Memorandum
Issued on his first full day in Office, President Obama’s FOIA Memorandum has a clear message: “In the face of doubt, openness prevails.” The President called on agencies to respond to FOIA requests in “a spirit of cooperation” and emphasized the need for timeliness, use of technology, and proactive disclosures in FOIA administration. The President directed the Attorney General to issue new guidelines governing the FOIA that reaffirm the government’s commitment to accountability and transparency.
Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines
Issued during Sunshine Week in March of 2009, the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines directed agencies to apply a presumption of openness in administering the FOIA and strongly encouraged agencies to make discretionary disclosures. The Guidelines also emphasized that FOIA is an agency-wide responsibility and highlighted the key roles played by both FOIA professionals and agency Chief FOIA Officers, who now must report each year to the Department of Justice. The Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines also establish a new foreseeable harm standard. The Department “will defend a denial of a FOIA request only if (1) the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by one of the statutory exemptions, or (2) disclosure is prohibited by law.”
President Obama's Transparency Initiative
Continuing the effort to create an unprecedented level of openness in government, President Obama directed the creation of an Open Government Directive to be issued by the Office of Management and Budget. This directive instructs agencies to take specific actions to ensure an open government based on three principles outlined by the President:
Government should be transparent
Government should be participatory
Government should be collaborative
You can read the full text of the President's Transparency memo as well as learn more about the Open Government Initiative and the Open Government plans at different federal agencies on the White House's Open Government site.
DOJ's Open Government Plan
On June 25, 2010, the Department released its Open Government Plan version 1.1. The Plan emphasizes the special responsibility the Department of Justice has in open government given its guidance and oversight role in agency FOIA compliance.
You can see the flagship initiative for the Department's Open Government Plan version 1.1, the FOIA Dashboard, in action at FOIA.gov.
On April 9, 2012, the Department released its Open Government Plan version 2.0. This updated plan contains many additional initiatives to continue moving FOIA administration forward with improved utilization of technology, given the Department’s special responsibility in providing guidance and oversight for agency FOIA compliance.
OIP's Efforts to Promote Transparency
In recognition of the Department’s leadership and policy-making role in FOIA, the Office of Information Policy is responsible for ensuring that the President’s FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines are fully implemented across the government. To carry out that responsibility OIP engages in a wide variety of initiatives to promote transparency across the government, including:
- Conducting extensive training on all aspects of the FOIA, including the requirements imposed by the President's FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General's FOIA Guidelines, as well as on overall open government initiatives across the government
- Counseling agencies on questions arising from the FOIA and open government initiatives
- Developing guidance for and reviewing agencies' Annual FOIA Reports and creating a summary of those reports
- Developing guidelines for and reviewing agencies' annual Chief FOIA Officers Reports, and issuing guidance for improvement based on a review of those reports
- Developing and promoting FOIA best practices within the government
- Convening government-wide FOIA conferences and working groups of FOIA professionals, Chief FOIA Officers and FOIA Public Liaisons
- Conducting outreach with open government groups and the open government community, and interested members of the public
- Testifying before Congress on the President’s and Attorney General’s transparency initiatives
- Creating FOIA.gov and the FOIA Dashboard to illuminate agency FOIA compliance and to educate the public about how the FOIA works
- Participating in international transparency events