Justice Blogs

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Department of Justice’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines directed agency Chief FOIA Officers to “review all aspects of their agencies’ FOIA administration” and to report annually to the Department of Justice on the efforts undertaken “to improve FOIA operations and facilitate information disclosure at their agencies.”  In accordance with DOJ’s FOIA Guidelines, OIP provides specific guidance each year to agencies on the content and timing of agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports and today we have issued the guidelines for agency 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports.

Since 2010, OIP has required agency Chief FOIA Officers to include in their reports steps taken to implement the five key areas addressed in DOJ’s FOIA Guidelines:

  1. Applying the Presumption of Openness,
  2. Ensuring that there are Effective Systems for Responding to Requests,
  3. Increasing Proactive Disclosures,
  4. Increasing the Utilization of Technology, and
  5. Improving Timeliness and Reducing any Backlogs.

Each year OIP develops reporting guidelines that build off the efforts and initiatives reported in previous years.  Our goal is to capture more advanced steps taken by agencies as their implementation of DOJ’s FOIA Guidelines has matured.  This year’s reporting requirements also continue to focus on certain areas where further improvements can be made.

The 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Guidelines once again include separate reporting requirements for agencies depending on the number of FOIA requests received in the prior fiscal year.  For the 2017 reports there are now three sets of reporting requirements.  For small-volume agencies that received less than 50 requests in Fiscal Year 2015, OIP has created streamlined reporting requirements.  For medium-volume agencies that received 50-1,000 requests last fiscal year we have more extensive requirements.  Our most comprehensive reporting requirements are established for high-volume agencies that received more than 1,000 requests last fiscal year. 

As in previous years, OIP has included new questions in the 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines, covering topics such as:

  • FOIA program self-assessments
  • Requester services
  • Methods for improving proactive disclosures

OIP has identified twenty-six high-volume agencies that received more than 1,000 requests during Fiscal Year 2015.  These agencies must submit their draft 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review by no later than January 13, 2017

All small-volume and medium-volume agencies must submit their draft reports by no later than February 3, 2017.  Agencies are identified as “small,” “medium,” or “high” volume on the chart included in the Guidelines.      

Additional details on the review and submission process are included in the Guidelines. OIP will once again host a refresher training seminar on the preparation of both the 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports and the Fiscal Year 2016 Annual FOIA Reports. The details for this training will be announced here on FOIA Post.

You can view the 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines, as well as all other guidance issued by OIP, on the Guidance page of our site.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Thursday, August 18, 2016

The next meeting of the Chief FOIA Officers Council will be held on Thursday, September 15, 2016.  At this meeting, OIP will brief the Council on the feedback received from agencies on the "Release to One is a Release to All" presumption and will provide journalists an opportunity to share their views on the presumption.  The meeting will be held at:

Second Chief FOIA Officers Council Meeting
GSA Central Office - Auditorium

1800 F Street, NW
Washington, DC 20405 
September 15, 2016 - 10am to 12pm

This meeting will be open to the public, and time will be provided for members of the public to address the Council.  If you would like to address the Council at the meeting, either as a journalist or a member of the public, please request this in your registration email.  Written comments pertaining to the “Release to All” presumption policy may be submitted to ReleaseToAll@usdoj.gov.      

While the “release to one is a release to all” presumption is the first topic being considered by the Council, the Director of OIP will also provide an update on the consolidated FOIA portal in anticipation of further engagement with the Council on that topic.       

For security purposes registration for this meeting is required.  Please email DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “CFO Council Meeting – Public” by 5:00 PM on September 7, 2016.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Wednesday, August 17, 2016

OIP is pleased to announce the launch of a new page on its website dedicated to the work of the Chief FOIA Officer (CFO) Council. Recently established by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, the CFO Council is composed of all agency CFOs, plus the Deputy Director for Management from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and is co-chaired by the Directors of OIP and the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). In fulfilling its responsibilities, the Council will meet regularly to develop recommendations for increasing FOIA compliance and efficiency, disseminating information about agency experiences and best practices, and working on initiatives that will increase transparency. Agencies and the public can access resources related to the work of the Council, including agendas and meeting minutes from past meetings as well as details on future meetings, on this dedicated page.    

As highlighted on FOIA Post, last month the CFO Council held its inaugural meeting on July 22, 2016 in an event held at the White House. A recording of that event, as well as the meeting minutes and presentation materials, is available on this new page. During this meeting, OIP Director Melanie Pustay introduced the first item for the Council's consideration -- implementing a "release to one, release to all" presumption for FOIA responses. To assist in the implementation of this new presumption, OIP asked agency CFOs to answer specific questions about how such a policy might work at their agency. The memorandum and questionnaire from OIP's Director to all agency CFOs seeking this feedback is also available on this new page. If you would like to submit your own feedback on the “release to one, release to all” presumption, please email ReleaseToAll@usdoj.gov with your thoughts.

Please be sure to continue checking FOIA Post and the new CFO Council Page for further updates on the Council's work and details about upcoming meetings.  

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Monday, August 1, 2016

Both President Obama and the Department of Justice have stressed the importance of agencies working “in a spirit of cooperation” with FOIA requesters. Since their introduction, agency FOIA Requester Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaisons serve as the voice of the agency and provide two channels for the public to use to interact with agencies during the FOIA request process. On August 15th, OIP, in conjunction with the Office of Government Information Services, will be hosting a specialized training event to assist agency personnel in carrying out their responsibilities in these important roles.

FOIA Requester Service Centers typically serve as the first contact at agencies for members of the public when they have questions or are seeking information about how the FOIA works or  the status of their requests. The individuals who make up these FOIA Requester Service Centers need to be prepared to discuss their agency's FOIA process and to provide specific details about any given request. In addition, agencies offer the assistance of FOIA Public Liaisons who are tasked by the statute to be supervisory agency officials with the responsibility for “assisting in reducing delays, increasing transparency and understanding of the status of requests, and assisting in the resolution of disputes.”

The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 reinforced the important role played by FOIA Public Liaisons who, in conjunction with agency FOIA Requester Service Centers, provide an all-important human touch to FOIA administration. By engaging with requesters during the FOIA process and providing contacts to help answer questions or resolve issues that may arise, FOIA Requester Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaisons serve important roles in promoting understanding throughout the lifecycle of a FOIA request. 

We hope that you are able to join us for this training, the details of which are:

FOIA Public Liaison and FOIA Requester Service Center Training
Department of Justice Conference Center
145 N Street, NE
August 15, 2016 - 10am to 12pm

This training is open to all FOIA Public Liaisons and FOIA Requester Service Center personnel. Registration is required to attend this training and you will need a picture ID to enter the building.

If you are interested in attending, please e-mail your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “FOIA Public Liaison & FOIA Requester Service Center Training.” If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact OIP's Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

For those individuals outside of the Washington, DC area who are unable to attend this training, we are planning a teleconference to review the presentation material in the coming weeks. If you are interested in being a part of this teleconference, please send an email to DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “FOIA Public Liaison& FOIA Requester Service Center Training – Teleconference.” 

Topic(s):
FOIA
Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On July 22, 2016, the Chief FOIA Officers (CFO) Council, created by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, held its inaugural meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The CFO Council is composed of all agency CFOs, plus the Deputy Director for Management from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and is co-chaired by the Directors of OIP and the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).  Chief FOIA Officers and representatives from over 64 agencies attended, along with several members of the public. The meeting was available via livestream, and the full video recording is available here.      

OIP Director Melanie Ann Pustay, opened the meeting by providing an overview of the responsibilities of agency CFOs. Next, Andrew Mayock, the Deputy Director for Management of OMB, emphasized the Administration’s commitment to transparency and open government. Mr. Mayock described the recently-announced Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal for FOIA that will be co-led by OMB, DOJ, and NARA to focus senior leadership attention and drive performance and accountability for improving FOIA administration, and to ensure that Federal departments and agencies are providing sufficient resources toward FOIA responsibilities. He explained that the CAP goal will be publicly posted on Performance.gov, and will have a detailed action plan, including specific metrics and milestones that will be used to gauge progress. Mr. Mayock explained that the initial focus of the CAP goal will be on implementing the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.  

Acting Director of OGIS Nikki Gramian also gave opening remarks. She discussed the responsibilities of OGIS and summarized the first meeting of the second term of the FOIA Advisory Committee, which is composed of representatives from both agencies and the requester community. Ms. Gramian indicated that she anticipates the work of the CFO Council and the FOIA Advisory Committee will be complementary, and that she looks forward to keeping the CFO Council informed about the Advisory Committee’s activities. 

Director Pustay then introduced the Council’s first item for consideration – implementing a “release to one is release to all” presumption for FOIA responses. Director Pustay briefed the Council on OIP’s six-month pilot program conducted with seven volunteer Federal agencies that was designed to assess the viability of a policy that would direct agencies to proactively post online their FOIA responses. The President has directed the CFO Council to consider the lessons learned from the DOJ pilot program and to work to develop a Federal Government policy establishing a “release to one is a release to all” presumptive standard for Federal agencies when releasing records under FOIA. After briefing the Council on the pilot and OIP’s findings, Director Pustay answered questions from the members on a wide range of issues connected with implementation of the policy.  

In the coming months, the CFO Council will examine issues critical to this policy’s implementation, including assessing the impact on investigative journalism efforts, as well as how best to address technological and resource challenges. At its next meeting, the Council will invite journalists and members of the public to provide feedback about the “release to all” policy, specifically addressing the concerns raised by some journalists about its possible impact on their work.  Details about the next meeting will be available here on FOIA Post.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Friday, July 22, 2016

The inaugural meeting of the newly established Chief FOIA Officers Council will be held on July 22, 2016. President Obama recently signed into law the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which, among other things, established a Chief FOIA Officer Council. The Chief FOIA Officer Council is co-chaired by the Directors of OIP and OGIS and is made up of each agency Chief FOIA Officer and the Deputy Director of Management of OMB. In accordance with the new law, the Council is tasked with developing recommendations for improving FOIA, sharing best practices, and developing and coordinating initiatives.

The meeting will be held at 2:00pm on July 22, 2016 in Room 430 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building; 1650 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20502

You can view a livestream of this meeting at www.wh.gov/live beginning at 2pm. You can also follow the meeting through OIP's Twitter account @FOIAPost and through the hashtag #CFOCouncil.

A limited number of seats are available for members of the public to attend in person. For security purposes registration is required. Please email DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “CFO Council Meeting – Public” by COB on July 18, 2016 to request a seat. On July 19, we will respond to your email to confirm your attendance and provide a link for you to formally register by July 21 at 12pm.  

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Monday, July 18, 2016

On June 30, 2016, President Obama signed into law the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which contains several substantive and procedural amendments to the FOIA. OIP has prepared a summary of the amendments as well as a redlined version of the statute which shows the changes made by the amendments. Today, OIP has released its first guidance piece addressing the new amendments. The guidance addresses the new requirements for agency response letters and for notices extending the FOIA's time limits due to "unusual circumstances." The guidance addresses the:

  • Requirement to notify requesters about the availability of the agency's FOIA Public Liaison to offer assistance,
  • Requirements to notify requesters of their right to seek dispute resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at NARA, and
  • To afford the requester no less than 90 days from the date of the adverse determination on the request to file an administrative appeal.

Agencies should update their response letters and notices extending the FOIA’s time limits due to unusual circumstances to include the new requirements from the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. OIP has prepared an implementation checklist, with sample language, to assist agencies in doing so.

 

Guidance on the New Requirements for FOIA Response Letters, Including Affording Ninety Days to File an Administrative Appeal, and New Notification Requirement for Notices Extending FOIA’s Time Limits Due to Unusual Circumstances

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Thursday, July 14, 2016

Update: This post has been updated to reflect that this event is at capacity.

OIP will be hosting a training session on the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 on August 8, 2016.  The training will provide agency personnel with an overview of the recent amendments to the FOIA and an opportunity to ask questions to OIP’s Director about the new provisions.  As OIP continues to work on guidance to agencies on the implementation of the specific requirements of the new law, we hope you can join us for this training to address any immediate questions or concerns. The details for this training are:

FOIA Amendments Training
Robert F. Kennedy Building - Great Hall
10th and Constitution Ave NW
August 8, 2016 - 10am to 12pm
 

This training event is open to agency FOIA professionals and interested agency personnel.

If you are interested in attending, please e-mail your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “FOIA Amendments Training.” As space for this meeting is limited, registration is required to attend.  You will need a picture ID to enter the building.  If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact OIP's Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Thursday, June 30, 2016

This Fourth of July marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which as President Obama declared, "is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government." In July 2015, OIP launched a pilot program with the participation of seven agency volunteers to assess the feasibility of a policy that would entail not only releasing FOIA processed records to one requester, but to the public at large by having the agency  post them online. Today, and in celebration of the FOIA’s 50th anniversary, OIP is pleased to release its report on this pilot along with its analysis and next steps.

In his 2009 FOIA Memorandum, President Obama directed agencies to take affirmative steps to make information available to the public. Likewise, the Department of Justice in its 2009 FOIA Guidelines stressed the importance of proactive disclosures and has encouraged agencies to engage in an ongoing effort to identify records of interest to the public and to post them online. The pilot sought to answer many important questions on the feasibility of a “release to one/release to all” policy, including the:

  • costs associated with such a policy,
  • effect on staff time for those who process requests,
  • effect on interactions with government stakeholders, and the
  • justification for any exceptions to such a policy, such as for personal privacy.

The agencies that participated in the pilot are the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and components or offices of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, and the National Archives and Records Administration. Throughout the pilot, OIP collected metrics, provided guidance, and answered questions from the participating agencies and solicited feedback from the public. All of the information collected from agencies and received from the public has been incorporated into the assessment.

Analyzing the pilot results revealed that a broad implementation of the “release to one/release to all” policy will require the active participation of a range of offices within each agency. Not only will FOIA offices need to be engaged in this process but, more significantly, the Web teams or IT offices who provide the technical assistance in preparing documents for posting will need to develop workflows and plans to accommodate the increased volume of postings that would occur as a result of implementation. Additionally, time and financial resources may need to be reallocated. Given these factors, the engagement of agency Chief FOIA Officers is critical to expanding the “release to one/release to all” policy more broadly across the government.

As a result of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, Chief FOIA Officers will serve on a newly-created Chief FOIA Officers Council. The Department of Justice will present the results of its "release to one/release to all" pilot as the first item for the new Council to consider and will seek the assistance of the Council in determining the best way forward. 

Alongside these efforts, OIP will continue to engage with agencies on the implementation of this policy. OIP will also continue to ask agencies to include in their Chief FOIA Officer Reports details about their efforts regarding proactive disclosures in general and “release to one/release to all” efforts in particular. All agencies are encouraged to use the results of this pilot as a guide while the Chief FOIA Officers Council begins its work, and we encourage everyone to review OIP’s full report on this pilot.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Thursday, June 30, 2016

Today, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act, President Obama has signed into law the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.

In our democracy, the FOIA serves as a vital tool to keep citizens informed about the operations of their government. Since its enactment in 1966, the FOIA has been amended on a number of occasions to adapt to the times and changing priorities.  The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 contains several substantive and procedural amendments to the FOIA, as well as new reporting requirements for agencies.  

In order to assist agencies in understanding all of the new changes to the FOIA, OIP has added two new resources to its website today. First, agencies and the public can find a detailed summary of all of the changes to the law on the "FOIA Resources" pages of our site. Additionally, OIP is making available a redline version of the FOIA which outlines each of the changes within the law. 

In the upcoming months, OIP will be issuing guidance to agencies on the implementation of the various new provisions of the law.  Announcements will be made on FOIA Post as new guidance is released. Agencies are encouraged to contact OIP's FOIA Counselor Service with any questions they may have on implementation of these new statutory provisions.  

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Thursday, June 2, 2016

Organizations around the country continue to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the FOIA. This week, Director Melanie Ann Pustay will provide a keynote address on Friday, June 3rd at the Columbia Journalism School’s “FOIA @ 50” celebration, and we invite you to watch her remarks through a live stream made available by the University.

Signed into law on July 4, 1966 by President Johnson, the FOIA continues to be “the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.” The Columbia Journalism School’s “FOIA @ 50” celebration is a multi-day event with presentations and panels focused on the statute’s first fifty years, observations from representatives of the public and civil society, and trends for the future.

Director Pustay will provide an address at 1pm on Friday the 3rd focused on the FOIA’s first fifty years, including a viewing of the Department of Justice’s 50th anniversary video released during Sunshine Week 2016, and the steps OIP has taken during this administration to:

  • Improve the engagement between requesters and agencies,
  • Improve internal agency processes, and
  • Promote greater agency accountability.

You can watch this address live at bitly.com/cjslive.

For more information, including the full program and biographies of noted speakers, please visit the Columbia Journalism School’s site for this event. We’d like to thank the event organizers for inviting Director Pustay to participate in this special celebration.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Friday, May 27, 2016

FOIA websites provide a wealth of information to the public on how the FOIA works, including how to make a request for records and how to locate information that is already publicly available. To further improve these websites and promote consistency, we would like to invite you to join us on June 16th for a requester roundtable discussion on agency FOIA websites.

As part of the United States' Third Open Government National Action Plan, the Administration committed to "issuing guidance and creating best practices for agency web pages, including developing a template for key elements to encourage all agencies to update their FOIA websites to be consistent, informative, and user-friendly." Kicking-off this effort, OIP, in conjunction with the Office of Government Information Services, is hosting this requester roundtable to discuss best practices seen for agency FOIA websites.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts on what agency FOIA websites should look like and any features or formats that you have seen that have been particularly helpful.  The details for the meeting are:

FOIA Requester Roundtable Meeting
Agency FOIA websites
Department of Justice – Office of Information Policy
1425 New York Avenue, NW – Suite 11050
June 16, 2016, 12:30 – 1:30 pm

You will need a picture ID to enter the building.

This meeting is open to the public as well as to all interested agency personnel.  We hope that you can join us for this discussion.

If you are interested in attending, please e-mail your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “June Requester Roundtable.”  As space for this meeting is limited, registration is required to attend.  If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact OIP's Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Monday, May 9, 2016

This past March marked the seventh year that agency Chief FOIA Officers submitted to the Department of Justice their Chief FOIA Officer Reports detailing all the steps their agencies have taken to embrace the President's and the Department of Justice's 2009 FOIA Memoranda. These Chief FOIA Officer Reports have served as a valuable resource for agencies to describe the various initiatives undertaken to improve their administration of the FOIA. With the completion of agencies’ 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports this past Sunshine Week, today OIP releases its summary and assessment of these reports and the progress made in implementing the Department of Justice's 2009 FOIA Guidelines.

Similar to last year, this year’s summary is broken down into five parts detailing the efforts of agencies in each of the five key areas addressed in the Department's 2009 FOIA Guidelines:

  • Applying the Presumption of Openness,
  • Having Effective Systems for Responding to Requests,
  • Making Information Available Proactively,
  • Utilizing Technology, and
  • Reducing Backlogs and Improving Timeliness.

Agencies and the public are encouraged to read both OIP’s summary and each agency’s individual report to learn more about the various efforts and steps taken over the last reporting year to improve the administration of the FOIA across the government.

In addition to the summary, OIP’s 2016 assessment once again provides a visual snapshot of agency efforts in several key areas of FOIA administration. The assessment is separated between high and low volume FOIA agencies and includes a five-step scoring system, overall scores for each assessed section, and the inclusion of a detailed methodology. The full assessment is provided in both an open format and in PDF.

Finally, as part of the 2016 summary and assessment, OIP has once again included guidance based on our review of the 2016 reports to assist agencies in making further improvements in the years ahead. As concluded in OIP’s summary and assessment, "agencies continue to improve their administration of the FOIA through various initiatives connected to the five key areas established in the Department's 2009 FOIA Guidelines." Based on our review of the reports, OIP's guidance encourages agencies to focus on closing their ten oldest requests and appeals, to successfully post their quarterly FOIA reports throughout the year, and to conduct self-assessments of their FOIA administration to aid in making further improvements in upcoming years.    

OIP’s yearly assessment is intended to serve as a vehicle to both recognize agency successes and to identify areas where further improvement can be made. You can read OIP’s 2016 Summary and Assessment of Agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports on our Reports page alongside previous summaries and assessments. OIP’s guidance for further improvement based on our review of agency 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports is available as a part of this year’s summary as well as on our Guidance page.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Friday, April 29, 2016

For Sunshine Week 2016, DOJ celebrated the 50 year history of the FOIA.  During the Department's Sunshine Week event, Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery remarked,

Over the last 50 years, the public demand for information through the FOIA has grown considerably. And so have agencies’ abilities to meet that demand.

Today, OIP highlights a number of FOIA success stories from 2015-2016 for the 15 cabinet agencies. As in prior years, these success stories come from agencies 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports, which detail all the efforts taken place throughout the year to implement the President's and the Department of Justice's FOIA policy directives.  

For the last seven years, the Chief FOIA Officer Reports have played an important role in allowing agencies to go beyond the statistics of their Annual FOIA Reports to more fully illustrate the various concrete steps they have taken to implement the presumption of openness and improve their FOIA administration. The reports give agencies the ability to provide depth and context to the varied steps that they are taking to increase efficiency and improve performance in the FOIA process. They also provide a vehicle for agencies to describe the innovative ways information is being released to the public proactively.

Some of the successes from the selection highlighted today include:

  • The Department of Homeland Security launched the first ever eFOIA mobile application and made remarkable achievements in backlog reduction, eliminating over 65% of backlogged requests.
     
  • In response to public interest, the Food and Drug Administration processed and posted all records concerning a listeria outbreak related to ice cream. By proactively posting the records, the public and the media were able to readily obtain information about the outbreak and the contaminated products involved.
     
  • The Department of Energy continues its efforts to open up data to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and innovation, providing a central online location for information about data released by the agency. 
     
  • Despite a marked increase in incoming requests, the Department of the Interior reduced its overall backlog of requests and closed its ten oldest requests. 

As in prior years, OIP will soon be issuing its detailed summary and assessment of agency 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports. In the meantime, however, we encourage you to take a look at the individual agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports for more on all the important work that is being done to improve access to information. 

For more information on agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports, including the reports filed by agencies in previous years, please visit our Reports page.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Last month, OIP posted the Department’s 2015 Litigation and Compliance Report. Each year by April 1, the Attorney General submits to Congress a report detailing the Department’s efforts to encourage agency compliance with the FOIA, as well as a listing of all FOIA litigation cases received and decided in the prior calendar year. The report highlights the many ways that OIP works to provide guidance, trainings, and counseling to promote agency accountability with the FOIA.      

This year's report once again summarizes new policy guidance issued by OIP, which for 2015 includes:

The report also discusses a range of efforts by OIP to promote agency accountability with the FOIA, including through the review and assessment of agencies’ 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports and Annual FOIA Reports, and the creation of new reporting guidelines for agency 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Reports. As detailed in the 2015 report, in addition to direct one-on-one counseling, OIP hosted and facilitated numerous training programs and briefings on the FOIA, providing instruction to nearly 2,000 FOIA professionals across the government. The report also summarizes the many resources that OIP makes available online, such as the DOJ Guide to the FOIA, searchable summaries of court decisions, and information about FOIA news and events published in the FOIA Post blog.           

The newly published 2015 report also details OIP’s work on several open government initiatives. Notably, pursuant to the United States’ Second Open Government National Action Plan, OIP created four distinct FOIA training resources and made them available to all agencies during 2015. These resources included an infographic covering FOIA basics for new employees, a brief video for senior government executives, and two e-Learning training modules - one for FOIA professionals and another for all government employees. As detailed in the report, OIP has also already begun making progress on commitments in the Third Open Government National Action Plan, which include expanding services available on FOIA.gov, conducting a proactive disclosure pilot, and improving agency FOIA websites.     

Along with the narrative portion of the report, every year OIP compiles charts listing the FOIA litigation cases received and decided during 2015. As in previous years, OIP again provides these charts in both PDF and open (CSV) formats.

OIP invites both agencies and the public to review its 2015 Litigation and Compliance Report to learn more about all of our efforts to encourage agency compliance with the FOIA.  OIP looks forward to building on these efforts as we continue to work with agencies and the public to improve the overall administration of the FOIA in the years ahead.     

Topic(s):
FOIA
Friday, April 1, 2016

The 2009 FOIA Guidelines were the first Department of Justice FOIA Guidelines to specifically highlight the importance of utilizing modern technology in FOIA administration. To support this directive, in 2010 OIP formed the FOIA IT Working Group, which continues to serve as a forum for agencies to discuss the application of technology to the administration of the FOIA. OIP reconvened the working group to commemorate Sunshine Week 2016 with a discussion from a panel of experts focused on the importance of leadership support and collaboration between technology and FOIA professionals.

Over the last six years, the IT Working Group has discussed a range of topics, including providing records in electronic formats, improvements in agency FOIA websites, and the use of advanced document processing tools. Moderated by Director Melanie Ann Pustay, the Sunshine Week meeting facilitated a vibrant discussion with a panel of experts who included: Ron Bewtra, Chief Technology Officer at the Department of Justice; Doug Hibbard, Senior Advisor to the Initial Request Staff with the Office of Information Policy; Jennifer Matis, Assistant Counsel for the Office of Government Ethics (OGE); and Timothy Mallon, Systems Engineer and Software Developer at OGE.

The key theme that emerged throughout the nearly two-hour meeting was the need for collaboration between technology and FOIA professionals and the importance of leadership and a clear vision for how technology can support the agency's mission. Each panelist brought unique insights to the conversation, beginning with Mr. Bewtra who discussed his role as the chief technologist for the Justice Department. In his remarks, Mr. Bewtra focused on how his team works with program experts to ensure component missions are fully supported through the utilization of the right technology. Mr. Bewtra emphasized the importance of communication and a clear understanding of the mission between program and technology experts. As the Department as a whole seeks to maximize the value of agency-wide technology investments, collaboration with program offices continues to be an important practice for Mr. Bewtra in order to determine where available technology could be used and what new projects to take on.

Mr. Hibbard then discussed the various efforts undertaken to incorporate advanced technology tools into the FOIA process at OIP – specifically the application of e-Discovery applications for document review. Mr. Hibbard’s remarks focused on the collaboration between OIP and program offices within the Department to develop pilot programs and business cases for the use of such tools to process FOIA requests. He explained how the implementation of these tools required coordination with technology professionals, testing by OIP staff, the development of unique workflows, and training. As emphasized by Mr. Hibbard, all of these efforts at OIP were possible because of the Office’s ability to articulate the business case for use of these tools and the support for its mission by the Department’s technology staff.

The team from OGE discussed a similar, collaborative experience, but focused on different applications and scales of technology that they identified for OGE's needs. Whereas the panelists from the Department of Justice discussed the benefits of agency-wide applications and how OIP made the case for using available technology, the OGE team discussed how a one-on-one interaction at a small agency led to the development of a home-grown case management system. Ms. Matis discussed how the clear needs of the FOIA office and personal interaction with Mr. Mallon allowed the team to collaborate on the development of their new case management tool, creating efficiencies that were not previously available.

In addition to discussing the need for collaboration, all four panelists discussed the importance of finding the right tool or set of tools for the task required. For Mr. Bewtra, this meant having a clearly articulated set of requirements when looking to acquire a new tool or leverage an existing one. Mr. Hibbard discussed that while efficiencies have been gained in document review through the use of e-Discovery tools, these tools are not always the answer for all requests, and for some requests it may be more efficient to use other methods or tools for processing. Finally, the OGE team discussed how building their new case management tool on an expandable technology platform meant that new features could be added as needs arose, allowing them to iterate within their current tool instead of searching for a new one.

The panel had a very engaging discussion with attendees regarding various topics throughout the event. Given the strong interest in these discussions, OIP will be looking for ways to continue the dialogue at events in the future. Additionally, as agencies continue to explore new ways to harness technology in their administration of the FOIA we invite them to let us know so that future meetings of the FOIA IT Working Group will be convened in order to share the latest developments across the government.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Tuesday, March 22, 2016

As part of the Second United States Open Government National Action Plan the Administration committed to initiating “an interagency process to determine the feasibility and the potential content of a core FOIA regulation that is both applicable to all agencies and retains flexibility for agency-specific requirements.”  Throughout 2014 and 2015, OIP convened an interagency working group and met with members of civil society to fulfill this commitment.  The goal of this initiative was to create as much uniformity as is practical and feasible in the content of agency FOIA regulations.  Today, OIP culminates work on this initiative by releasing guidance and a template containing both guidelines and sample language for agency FOIA regulations.

FOIA regulations are a key aspect of an agency’s FOIA administration.  Each agency is responsible for publishing its own regulations.  The FOIA statute requires that certain topics be included in agency FOIA regulations, such as providing for expedited processing.  There are many other areas, however, where agencies have flexibility, such as setting a time limit for submitting an administrative appeal.         

OIP’s new guidance identifies the topics that the FOIA requires agencies to address in their regulations.  The guidance also notes the provisions that the FOIA permits agencies to include.  In addition to the required and optional provisions, the guidance describes the other types of provisions that agencies, as a matter of good practice, should include in their regulations. 

The guidance is supplemented by a FOIA regulation template that provides guidelines and sample language for agencies to use as they publish and update their regulations.  These resources will be updated as needed to reflect changes in law and policy.

To the extent it is feasible, standardizing common aspects of FOIA administration across agencies will simplify the FOIA process for requesters who may submit requests to different agencies.  For example, the template guidelines specify a minimum number of days that agencies should afford requesters to file an administrative appeal.  The guidance and template also stress the importance of including customer service provisions.  OIP encourages all agencies to consult the guidance and template as they review their own regulations.  By doing so, agencies can help further standardize FOIA practices across the government and improve overall administration of the FOIA.  

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Thursday, March 17, 2016

As announced on FOIA Post last week, all 100 agencies subject to the FOIA have finalized their Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Annual FOIA Reports, and OIP is pleased to published today its annual government-wide summary of the data found in these reports. 

In order to provide agency personnel and the public with a comprehensive picture of the government’s FOIA activities during the fiscal year, OIP issues a summary of the information contained within agency Annual FOIA Reports every year. As in previous years, the Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for FY 2015 looks at government-wide data for many key statistics in FOIA administration and highlights significant numbers reported by individual agencies.  Additionally, the summary identifies trends in FOIA processing by comparing the FY 2015 Annual FOIA Report data with data from prior fiscal years.

As described in this year’s summary, during FY 2015, the government overall continued to face high numbers of incoming FOIA Requests, receiving over 700,000 requests. Agencies responded by processing a record high number of nearly 770,000 requests. This strong effort led to a significant 35.6% reduction in the government’s overall request backlog. The vast majority of agencies (seventy-one) reported low backlogs of fewer than 100 requests. Notably, fifty-seven agencies reported a request backlog of below twenty requests, and twenty-nine reported that they did not have any backlog of requests. The government overall achieved this while still maintaining a release rate of over 91%. As in prior years, the most cited FOIA exemptions continued to be Exemption 6 and 7(C), which both protect personal privacy. The top five agencies that received and processed the most requests as part of these efforts were the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs.      

OIP's summary this year concludes by observing that while much has been achieved this past year there is still work to be done for further improvements in FY 2016. Agencies must continue to focus on improving timeliness in their responses, particularly for “simple track” requests and to reduce the age of their oldest requests.       

OIP’s Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for FY 2015 is available on our Reports page where it can be compared with previous summaries dating back to FY 2006. The data collected in agency Annual FOIA Reports can also easily be viewed, compared, and analyzed on FOIA.gov.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Dir. Pustay Introducing Acting ASG Delery

Dir. Pustay introduces Acting ASG Delery

This week, the Justice Department welcomed individuals from around the government and members of the public to the Great Hall of the Robert F. Kennedy building to kickoff Sunshine Week 2016. This year’s event included the presentation of the 2016 Sunshine Week FOIA Awards and the premier of a short video produced by the Justice Department in tribute to the FOIA’s 50th anniversary.

Acting ASG Delery Providing Keynote Address
Keynote Address from Acting ASG Delery

Serving as keynote speaker at this year’s event was the Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery, who also serves as the Department’s Chief FOIA Officer. In his remarks, the Acting Associate Attorney General spoke about the history of the FOIA and how the law “made three important changes to the disclosure standards that previously had been included in the Administrative Procedure Act” including:

  • Making records available to “any person” rather than available to “persons properly and directly concerned,”
  • Setting out discrete categories of exempt information replacing vague standards that included “good cause found,” and
  • Providing for judicial review of government decisions to withhold requested information.

The Acting Associate Attorney General noted that upon its passage “the FOIA both empowered individuals to access governmental records and provided more specific direction and guidance to agencies.”

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the FOIA’s passage, the Department of Justice debuted a special video tribute to this important law. The video details the history of the law, how FOIA administration and processing has changed over the last 50 years, and how the FOIA has served as the foundation for the open government our founding fathers envisioned. The video is available both on the Justice Department’s video page and on its YouTube channel.

In addition to commemorating the FOIA’s 50th anniversary, OIP Director Melanie Ann Pustay recognized this year’s Sunshine Week FOIA Award recipients. During the award presentation ceremony Director Pustay highlighted key achievements in FOIA administration for each recipient. The following awards were presented by Acting Associate Attorney General Delery and Director Pustay:

Exceptional Service by a FOIA Professional or Team of FOIA Professionals 

This award recognized exemplary performance by an agency FOIA professional or team of FOIA professionals in carrying out the agency’s administration of the FOIA and advancing the principles set out in the Department of Justice's FOIA Guidelines. Three Exceptional Service awards were presented to:

  • Kara Christenson – Federal Bureau of Prisons, Department of Justice;
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement FOIA Team – Department of Homeland Security; and
  • U.S. Army Special Operations Command FOIA Team – Department of Defense
Awardee Accepting 2016 Sunshine Week FOIA Award
Presentation of Sunshine Week FOIA Award to Kara Christenson

Lifetime Service Award

This award recognized those individuals with at least twenty years of service who have demonstrated high standards of excellence and dedication. Three Lifetime Service awards were presented to:

  • Stasia A. Hutchison – Research, Education, and Economics, Department of Agriculture;
  • David Goldsmith – U.S. Army Reserve Command, Department of Defense; and
  • James Kovakas – Civil Division, Department of Justice

OIP would like to again recognize and thank each of the award recipients for their outstanding work and many contributions in the administration of the FOIA.

In closing his remarks, Acting Associate Attorney General Delery praised the dedication of agency FOIA professionals and thanked them for their work over the years. He also stressed that there was still more work to be done. As he stated:

“On this 50th anniversary of the FOIA, it is appropriate that we celebrate how far we have come in making government information accessible to the public.  But for all the progress we have made, we certainly still have more work to do.  As we look to the future of the FOIA, we acknowledge that we need to train more professionals; respond to exploding numbers of requests faster, including through more effective use of technology, and ensure that content of our responses are as they should be.  As far as we have come, we cannot rest.”

As we continue to celebrate Sunshine Week this week and the FOIA’s 50th anniversary this year, be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for announcements and news from OIP.

Read the full remarks from Acting Associate Attorney General and Department of Justice Chief FOIA Officer Stuart Delery. 

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Friday, March 11, 2016

OIP is pleased to announce that all 100 agencies subject to the FOIA have finalized their Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Annual FOIA Reports and that the Department has uploaded all of the data from these reports onto FOIA.gov

Each year, federal departments and agencies are required by law to submit a report to the Attorney General detailing various statistics regarding their agency’s FOIA activities, such as the numbers of requests processed and received, and the time taken to process them. The data from all of these Annual FOIA Reports is then uploaded onto FOIA.gov, the Justice Department’s government-wide FOIA resource, so that the public can easily view it and compare FOIA data by agency and over time.

OIP is currently in the process of compiling its Summary of Agency Annual FOIA Reports for FY 2015. However, from the data uploaded onto FOIA.gov we can already see that the government overall has achieved significant accomplishments this past year. For example:

  • The government overall reported processing a record high 769,903 FOIA requests, which is an increase of 19% from FY 2014, and the first time agencies have reported processing numbers over 700,000 requests.
     
  • As a result of these record high processing numbers, the government also reduced its backlog of pending FOIA requests by just over 35%.  
     
  • Seventy-one agencies reported having a backlog of fewer than 100 requests, and 29 report have no backlog at all.
     
  • This also marks the seventh year in a row where agencies released information in full or in part for more than 91% of the requests processed for a disclosure determination.   

We encourage everyone to visit FOIA.gov to view each agency's data as well as government-wide FOIA statistics.

The Department looks forward to seeing all of the registered attendees at our Sunshine Week Kickoff Celebration on Monday, March 14th and at our FOIA IT Working Group meeting on Thursday, March 17th. Please continue reading FOIA Post for additional Sunshine Week 2016 announcements as well as for the release of the Department’s Summary of Agency Annual FOIA Reports in the coming weeks.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Both the President and Department of Justice have stressed the importance of using modern technology in administering the FOIA in order to provide timely disclosure of information to the public. In the years since the issuance of the President’s FOIA Memorandum and the Department of Justice’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines, agencies have taken concrete steps to use technology tools to improve multiple aspects of their FOIA process.  Next month, agencies will have the chance to share details of their efforts to leverage new technology solutions in a meeting of the FOIA IT Working Group.

Since its inception, the FOIA IT Working Group has acted as a forum for agency FOIA and technology professionals to discuss areas that have, or could benefit from, the application of technology tools. In celebration of Sunshine Week 2016, OIP will be showcasing the efforts of agencies that have used technology solutions to improve their administration of the FOIA. The meeting will also feature a discussion of areas or topics that the Working Group should address in the future.

The details for the meeting, which is open to all agency FOIA professionals and interested agency technology specialists, are:

FOIA IT Working Group Meeting
Department of Justice
145 N Street, NE
March 17, 2016, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm

Registration is required to attend and you will need a picture ID to enter the building for this meeting.

If you are interested in attending this event, you can register by e-mailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov, with the subject “FOIA IT Working Group Sunshine Week Meeting.”  If you have any questions regarding this meeting, please contact OIP at (202) 514-FOIA (3642).

As Sunshine Week 2016 approaches, be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for announcements and information about all of the Justice Department’s planned activities for the week.  And don’t forget to join us for the Department of Justice’s Sunshine Week kickoff celebration on Monday, March 14th.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Monday, February 22, 2016

On Monday, March 14th the Department of Justice will once again invite the public and agency professionals to the Robert F. Kennedy Building to celebrate the start of Sunshine Week 2016. During this year’s event, the Department will present selected FOIA professionals with the 2016 Sunshine Week FOIA Awards as well as commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the FOIA.

Introduced last year, the Department’s Sunshine Week FOIA Awards recognize the vital role that agency professionals across the government play in improving the administration of the FOIA at their agencies. In January OIP announced the categories and nomination guidelines for this year’s awards, which seek to recognize excellence by an individual or team of FOIA professionals as well as lifetime service awards to those individuals with 20 or more years of FOIA experience.

This year’s event will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the FOIA. Signed into law in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the FOIA set a new standard for transparency in government and, in the words of President Obama has remained “the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.”

We hope that you can join us for this event, which will feature a keynote address from the Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery, who also serves as the Department of Justice Chief FOIA Officer.  The details for this event, which is open to all agency personnel and members of the public, are:

Department of Justice Sunshine Week 2016 Celebration
Robert F. Kennedy Building - Great Hall
10th and Constitution Ave NW
March 14, 2016, 10:00 am - Noon

You will need a picture ID to enter the building.

If you are interested in attending this event, you can register by e-mailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Coordinator at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “Sunshine Week 2016 Celebration.” If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact our office at (202) 514-3642.

As Sunshine Week 2016 approaches, be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for announcements and information about all of OIP’s planned activities for the week. 

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Tuesday, February 9, 2016

OIP’s Best Practices Workshop series continued at the end of 2015 with one event focusing on best practices for small agencies and another on reducing backlogs and improving timeliness. Launched in 2014, the Best Practices Workshop series was designed as a part of the United States’ Second Open Government National Action Plan commitment to modernize FOIA administration. The goal of the series is to improve FOIA processes by leveraging effective strategies from across the government, highlighting successes achieved by agencies and sharing successful strategies on a wide range of FOIA issues.

In August 2015, agency colleagues participated in a discussion on best practices in FOIA administration for small agencies. Over half of federal agencies received less than 200 FOIA requests annually in the last five fiscal years and this workshop was designed in recognition of the unique challenges faced by those small-volume agencies. Moderated by OIP Director Melanie Ann Pustay, the panel included representatives from the Office of Government Ethics, the Federal Maritime Commission, the Farm Credit Administration, and the Department of Justice's Tax Division. What was most note-worthy about this event was the extent to which these small-volume agencies utilized many of the same techniques and approaches to their FOIA administration as the larger-volume agencies. During the event, the panelists highlighted numerous best practices they have relied on to achieve success in FOIA administration, including:

  • Collaborating with agency personnel, including non-FOIA personnel
  • Using Multi-Track Processing
  • Communicating with requesters
  • Conducting Internal Reviews of FOIA Practices and Procedures 
  • Utilizing a FOIA Tracking System or Database

The August workshop was followed by a December 2015 event discussing best practices for reducing backlogs and improving timeliness. Given the ongoing importance of improving timeliness and reducing any backlogs of pending requests, OIP’s very first Best Practices Workshop event in May 2014 focused on those topics. In 2015 OIP held another Best Practices Workshop that concentrated on those topics. This most recent event built off the successes and strategies first introduced during the initial 2014 discussion. Serving on the panel at this event were representatives from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Energy. Each panelist shared the approaches their agencies had taken to achieve success, including:

  • Leveraging Technology
  • Utilizing Active Case Management Techniques
  • Getting Employee Buy-in
  • Developing Quality Staff
  • Building Relationships Amongst Program Offices

This combination of approaches, while requiring ongoing focus and attention, has proven to be successful for the agencies participating in the Workshop. Additional details on the best practices discussed during these events, as well as OIP resources on these topics, are available on our Best Practices Workshops page.

The Best Practices Workshop series continues next month with a discussion on best practices from the requesters perspective on March 16th.  Be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for more information on this series and other events offered by OIP.

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government
Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Department of Justice is proud to announce that we will once again commemorate the start of Sunshine Week with a kickoff event on Monday morning, March 14, 2016. To help us prepare for this event, OIP is seeking nominations for this year’s Sunshine Week FOIA Awards.

Embracing DOJ's declaration that "FOIA is everyone's responsibility," during Sunshine Week 2015 the Department recognized and celebrated the contributions of FOIA professionals with the first Sunshine Week FOIA Awards. At last year's event, the accomplishments of various FOIA professionals were highlighted through awards such as Excellence in Management and Outstanding Contributions by a New Employee. As we prepare for Sunshine Week 2016, and in recognition of the FOIA’s 50th Anniversary, OIP is seeking nominations for two categories of awards for our 2016 Sunshine Week event.

Details on how to submit your nominations for this year’s awards are listed below. Nominations are due to OIP by Friday, February 19th. Awardees will be recognized during the Department’s 2016 Sunshine Week Kickoff Event to be held on Monday, March 14th at 10:00 amFull details for this event will be announced here on FOIA Post in the coming weeks.

The Department's 2009 FOIA Guidelines emphasize the key role of agency FOIA professionals as these individuals are “responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the Act.” The FOIA was signed into law by President Johnson in 1966 and over the last 50 years it has, as President Obama declared, remained “the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.”

The 2016 Sunshine Week Awards are designed to recognize both the vital work of FOIA professionals as well as to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this important law. We look forward to receiving your nominations and seeing you at the event.

 

Department of Justice Sunshine Week FOIA Awards

Submission Guidelines

All agency personnel are eligible for the below awards. This can include Government Information Specialists, supervisors, FOIA attorneys, or FOIA administrative specialists.

We invite nominations for these awards from agencies as well as members of the public. Agency submissions should be made by the agency’s principal FOIA contact, FOIA supervisor, or Chief FOIA Officer.

Nominations must include:

  • The full name, title, agency or organization (if applicable), and contact information for the person submitting the nomination,
  • The name(s) of the individual(s) they are nominating,
  • The award category that best reflects the nominee’s accomplishments,
  • A summary, not to exceed two single-spaced pages, that describes the nominee’s or group’s accomplishments, why the individual or group should receive the award, what they have done that sets them apart, and how their actions benefited FOIA administration, and
  • A short abstract (100 words or less) that briefly outlines the nominee’s accomplishments.

Nominations must be submitted to DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “2016 Sunshine Week FOIA Award Nomination” by February 19, 2016.

Award Categories

Award for Exceptional Service by a FOIA Professional or Team of FOIA Professionals

Recognizing exemplary performance by a FOIA professional or team of FOIA professionals in carrying out the agency’s administration of the FOIA. This award recognizes those individuals or teams whose exceptional contributions have significantly benefited FOIA administration and implementation of the Department of Justice’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines at their agency. These benefits could include increased efficiency, greater use of technology, reduced backlogs, improved timeliness, and increased proactive disclosures.

Lifetime Service Award

Recognizing an agency FOIA professional with at least 20 years of work in FOIA administration who has demonstrated high standards of excellence and dedication in the administration of the FOIA throughout their career.

Topic(s):
FOIA
Thursday, January 7, 2016

In the Department of Justice’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines, the Attorney General noted that “[o]pen government requires not just a presumption of disclosure but also an effective system for responding to FOIA requests.”  The Guidelines stress that “[e]ach agency must be fully accountable for its administration of the FOIA” and that “effective FOIA administration belongs to all of us.” The Open Government Directive issued by OMB in December of 2009 provides that “[t]he three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government.” The Department of Justice recently took an important step in reinforcing these principles through updated employee performance standards.

First page of FOIA/Open Government Performance Standards MemorandumAgency accountability for ensuring open government flows directly from the efforts of the many individuals within agencies who have a role in responding to FOIA requests or overseeing open government policies and activities.  Ensuring that those activities are afforded their proper importance as a key aspect of job performance is an important way to both ensure accountability and to promote open government. As part of the Department of Justice’s own efforts to improve its open government, the Assistant Attorney General for Administration sent a memorandum to the heads of all department components on October 2, 2015, reminding them “of the importance of ensuring compliance with the requirements of the Freedom of lnformation Act (FOIA), and the Open Government Directive by incorporating appropriate performance standards in employee appraisal records and work plans.” To assist components in this effort, OIP worked to develop model performance standards for both open government and FOIA; the standards were distributed with the memorandum. 

There are six model performance standards. Two are for Open Government positions; specifically:

  1. Executive and Supervisory Positions that oversee positions that have responsibility for open government policies, and
  2. Positions that have responsibility for open government policies.

There are four model performance standards for FOIA, the first two addressing personnel who work primarily in FOIA; specifically:

  1. Executive and Supervisory Positions that oversee positions that have primary responsibility for FOIA implementation (e.g., Government Information Specialists)
  2. Positions that have primary responsibility for FOIA implementation (e.g., Government Information Specialists)

Significantly, the Department also included performance standards for those individuals who are not traditional FOIA Professionals, but who are called upon to assist FOIA Professionals in any number of ways during the administration of the Act. Those two standards address:

  1. Professional positions that have responsibilities for certain aspects of the Department's compliance with disclosure obligations, which may include searching for and reviewing records for disclosure, and
  2. Support Positions that provide administrative support to meet goals for timely responses to FOIA requests.

As the memorandum notes:

The Department's performance for responding promptly to FOIA requesters requires the efforts of not only FOIA personnel but also the efforts and cooperation of all non-FOIA personnel who receive, transmit, and review information for disclosure.  Each year the Department receives an increasing number of requests, and employees are called upon to assist in searching for responsive records, providing input for disclosure determinations, and identifying records for proactive disclosure on the Department's website.

Ensuring that employee performance standards and work plans include FOIA and open government elements is a natural complement to the Department’s earlier work in converting all of its FOIA Professionals to the Government Information Specialist job series. That distinct occupational series was created by OPM in 2012 and was designed to recognize and further professionalize the FOIA workforce. Over the last three years, the Department of Justice has converted all of its FOIA Professionals to the new job series.

As the number of FOIA requests received across the government continues to rise, all agencies are encouraged to include appropriate FOIA- and Open Government-Related performance standards for all employees who have any role in administering these key programs. By doing so, they can help ensure that the principle that “FOIA is everyone’s responsibility” will be fully recognized.    

Topic(s):
FOIA, Open Government

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