WASHINGTON – Responding to the President’s and Attorney General’s call for increased transparency, federal agencies across the government have released more documents, made more information available on websites and decreased backlogs in the past year, the Department of Justice today announced. This year, for the first time ever, 94 agencies were required to submit reports from their Chief FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) Officers detailing their progress in improving transparency as part of the President’s FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines.
“These 94 agencies have taken significant steps forward in providing the American people with the transparency they want and deserve,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Much work needs to be done in the effort to open up the government’s FOIA process and improve its efficiency, but these results indicate we have made important strides in the right direction.”
In the Chief FOIA Officers’ Reports, agencies were asked to describe the steps they had taken to improve transparency in accordance with the President’s FOIA Memorandum, www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/FreedomofInformationAct/, and the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines, www.justice.gov/ag/foia-memo-march2009.pdf. The department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) analyzed the reports and provided a summary of its findings and guidance for further improvements that can be found at www.justice.gov/oip/foiapost/2010foiapost23.htm. The results are significant. Among other things:
All agencies reported progress in implementing the presumption of openness, with over half having that progress rated as “remarkable.”
Almost half of the 94 agencies reported divulging documents in discretionary releases – i.e., the documents were requested under the FOIA and the agency could legally have withheld information, but chose not to. Over half looked for opportunities to do so.
More information is being released to FOIA requesters. In Fiscal Year 2009, the number of responses with released records, either records released in full or in part, increased overall. The number of partial releases increased by approximately 50,000 documents.
Eighty-nine percent of agencies reported proactively disclosing material on their websites – i.e., producing material that has not (yet) been requested by the public.
Ninety-five percent of agencies, including all cabinet agencies, can receive FOIA requests electronically, rather than merely via mail or other non-technological methods. Ninety one percent track the requests electronically as well.
Sixty percent of agencies either had no backlog in processing FOIA requests or reduced that backlog in Fiscal Year 2009. Eighty-five percent reduced the age of the oldest request or had no backlogged request to close.
President Obama’s Memorandum concerning transparency and open government was issued on Jan. 21, 2009. Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines were issued on March 19, 2009.
The Office of Information Policy is responsible for encouraging agency compliance with the FOIA and ensuring that the President’s FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines are fully implemented across the government. To carry out these responsibilities OIP develops and provides guidance to agencies relating to the FOIA and regularly conducts training for FOIA personnel. OIP also manages the department’s responsibilities related to the FOIA. Additional information regarding the OIP and FOIA can be found at OIP’s website, www.justice.gov/oip/oip.html.