WASHINGTON – As part of President Obama’s initiative on Transparency and Open Government, the Department of Justice is setting a transparency precedent for the rest of government by releasing on its Web site, the Department of Justice’s Fiscal Year 2008 Annual Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Report in a more publicly accessible format.
At the same time, the department is releasing, in this machine-readable format, 19 other agency annual FOIA reports from a sampling of other federal agencies, making a total release of 20 distinct data sets. As a result of the new format, members of the public, including public interest organizations, scholars, and the media, will be able to more easily track FOIA performance.
The department announced today’s initiative in response to the Open Government Directive issued by the White House yesterday.
The Directive directs all federal agencies to make their annual FOIA reports available in this machine-readable format starting with Fiscal Year 2009. The department in turn will make all of the machine-readable reports available in one location on the department’s Web site (www.justice.gov) as well on the Data.gov Web site.
Annual FOIA reports include detailed statistics on the number and disposition of FOIA requests, including response times, volume of requests, and personnel costs. Ultimately, increasing the usefulness of the FOIA processing data will also enable targeted outreach to agencies by the department to ensure greater compliance with the FOIA government-wide.
This initiative furthers the department’s ongoing efforts to foster increased transparency and accountability across the government. In accordance with the President’s Memorandum on the FOIA issued on Jan. 21, 2009, the Attorney General issued comprehensive new FOIA Guidelines on March 19, 2009. These new FOIA guidelines address the presumption of openness that the President called for in his FOIA memorandum, the necessity for agencies to create and maintain an effective system for responding to requests, and the need for agencies to proactively and promptly make information available to the public.
As part of this transparency initiative, the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) is now routinely releasing opinions from current and previous administrations on the OLC Web site.
The Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) has also been actively engaged in a variety of initiatives to inform and educate agency personnel on the President’s and Attorney General’s new openness principles.
Following the President’s FOIA memorandum and the Attorney General’s FOIA guidelines, OIP held a government-wide training conference attended by more than 500 government agency personnel. In keeping with the new focus on proactive disclosures and increased use of technology, OIP has made that presentation available to the public through the department’s Web site. OIP has also conducted numerous additional, agency-specific training sessions focused on the administration’s transparency initiative. Training sessions have been held at the Departments of Army, Commerce, Navy, Energy, Treasury, Labor, Transportation, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, and General Services Administration. OIP has also conducted trainings and outreach to U.S. Attorneys Offices around the country to ensure that they are fully aware of these new FOIA guidelines.
To assist agencies in implementing the new FOIA guidelines, on April 17, 2009, OIP issued extensive written guidance to all agencies. This guidance, posted on FOIA Post, the department’s online FOIA publication, discussed the new approaches for responding to requests and working with requesters; the new, more limited standards for defending agencies when they deny a FOIA request; the new requirements to maximize the use of technology to disclose information; the new requirement to post information online proactively; and the new accountability requirements for agency Chief FOIA Officers.
OIP has also been reaching out to the public and the requester community, through engagement with the American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP), an association of public and private sector officials interested in issues relating to transparency and other interested members of the FOIA community.
This training and outreach will continue as the department works to implement the Attorney General’s FOIA guidelines.
The Fiscal Year 2008 Annual Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Reports can be found online at: http://www.justice.gov/oip/fy08.html.