Skip to main content

2004 Compliance Report

Description Of Department Of Justice
Efforts To Encourage Agency
Compliance With The Act


During 2004, the Department of Justice, through its Office of Information and Privacy (OIP), engaged in a wide range of activities in meeting the Department's responsibility to encourage agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C.A. § 552 (1996 & West Supp. 2004), throughout the executive branch. A summary description of these many activities, which is required by subsection (e)(5) of the Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552(e)(5), is set forth below.

(a) Counseling and Consultations

One of the primary means by which the Department of Justice encouraged agency compliance with the FOIA during 2004 was through OIP's counseling activities, which were conducted largely over the telephone by experienced OIP attorneys known to FOIA personnel throughout the executive branch as "FOIA Counselors." Through this FOIA Counselor service, OIP provided information, advice, and policy guidance to FOIA personnel at all federal departments and agencies, as well as to other persons with questions regarding the proper interpretation or implementation of the Act. OIP has established a special telephone line to facilitate its FOIA Counselor service -- (202) 514-3642 (514-FOIA) -- which it publicizes widely. (This service and phone number are publicized also by some nongovernment organizations, such as the First Amendment Center of the Freedom Forum.) OIP also regularly receives telefaxed FOIA Counselor inquiries, and supporting documentation, at (202) 514-1009. While most of this counseling was conducted by telephone, other options were made available as well. In summary, the counseling services provided by OIP during the year consisted of the following:

(1) OIP provided basic FOIA Counselor guidance to agencies on a broad range of FOIA-related subjects, including emerging issues pertaining to information that is of homeland security sensitivity. Most of the FOIA Counselor calls received by OIP involve issues that are raised in connection with proposed agency responses to initial FOIA requests or administrative appeals, but many are more general anticipatory inquiries regarding agency responsibilities and administrative practices under the Act. (The Department of Justice specifies that all agencies intending to deny FOIA requests raising novel issues should consult with OIP to the extent practicable -- see 28 C.F.R. § 0.23a(b) (2004) -- and it has been found that such consultations are very valuable in encouraging agency compliance with the Act.) More than 3100 requests for assistance were received by OIP and handled in this way during 2004, the largest volume of such inquiries received ever.

(2) Frequently, a FOIA Counselor inquiry is of such complexity or arises at such a level that it warrants the direct involvement of OIP's supervisory personnel, often one or both of its co-directors or its deputy director. Approximately 350 inquiries of this nature were handled in 2004.

(3) Sometimes a determination is made that a FOIA Counselor inquiry requires more extensive discussion and analysis by OIP attorneys, including supervisory attorneys, on the basis of the information that is presented by the agency. Such a consultation involves a meeting or teleconference between agency representatives and senior OIP attorneys at which all factual, legal, and policy issues related to the matter presented are thoroughly discussed and resolved. There were ninety-three such more formal consultations in 2004 (including twenty-four with the general counsel or deputy general counsel of the agency involved), the largest volume ever of such activity. In addition, OIP provided consultation assistance to the Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the Director of the Terrorist Screening Center, the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office, the Acting Director of the Office of Government Ethics, the head of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the United States Ambassador to Argentina, the United States Attorney for the District of Hawaii, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington, the Chairman of the National Security Council's Coordinating Committee on Records Access and Information Security, the Chief Privacy Officer of the Department of Homeland Security, the Inspector General of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Deputy Inspector General of the Department of the Interior, the Chairman of the President's Information Security Classification Appeals Panel, and the Deputy Attorney General (formerly Deputy Corporation Counsel) of the District of Columbia during the year.

(4) An additional counseling service provided by OIP pertains to FOIA matters in litigation, where advice and guidance are provided at the request of and in close coordination with the Department of Justice's litigating divisions. This service involves OIP reviewing issues and proposed litigation positions in a case from both legal and policy standpoints, and then recommending positions that promote uniform and proper agency compliance with the Act. In many such instances, OIP is asked to consult on litigation strategy and in the drafting of briefs or petitions to be filed at the district court or appellate court levels. Further, OIP is consulted in all instances in which the Department of Justice must decide whether to pursue a FOIA or FOIA-related issue on appeal. OIP also is regularly consulted in all FOIA cases, and regarding all FOIA-related issues, that are handled by the Office of the Solicitor General before the United States Supreme Court. Most often, these litigation consultations are provided by one or both of OIP's co-directors. There were approximately 125 such litigation consultations in 2004, including thirty-eight that involved recommendations as to the advisability of initial or further appellate court review and six that involved the question of whether to seek or oppose certiorari review in the Supreme Court. In several such cases, OIP provided further consultation assistance to the Office of the Solicitor General on the FOIA or FOIA-related issues involved.

(b) Policy Guidance

During 2004, the Department of Justice issued policy and advisory discussions of FOIA issues for the guidance of all federal agencies, using its FOIA Post online publication as its primary means of policy dissemination. The major policy guidance issued during the year pertained to the protection of personal privacy interests under the FOIA, based upon the Supreme Court's decision in National Archives & Records Administration v. Favish, 541 U.S. 157 (2004), a landmark case in which the Court ruled that several death-scene photographs of former Deputy White House Counsel Vincent W. Foster, Jr. were properly withheld from the public on the basis of FOIA Exemption 7(C). This guidance began with a detailed analytical discussion of the factual circumstances and Supreme Court's reasoning in the case and then proceeded to distill several distinct principles of privacy protection that can be applied by agencies in future cases under both Exemptions 6 and 7(C). Foremost among these principles is that of "survivor privacy," a concept that was developed by the Justice Department in 1978 and ultimately was adopted by the Court for the protection of Mr. Foster's survivors' own interests in the Favish case. Other principles and analytical factors addressed in this policy guidance included (1) the significance (or not) of an individual's status as a public official and/or public figure; (2) the significance (or not) of an event's occurrence in a public place; (3) the "release to one is release to all" principle; (4) the significance (or not) of "mere allegations" of government wrongdoing; (5) the "specific public interest" standard for the balancing of interests in privacy-protection decisionmaking; and (6) the nexus requirement for the consideration of any qualifying public interest under a privacy exemption. Lastly, this policy guidance advised agencies of the continued viability (or not) of existing Exemption 6 and Exemption 7(C) case law within the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in light of the Supreme Court's decision. See FOIA Post, "Supreme Court Rules for 'Survivor Privacy' in Favish" (posted 4/9/04).

A second major policy issue addressed in 2004 was an agency's proper use of a "cut-off" date to delineate the scope of a FOIA request by treating records created after that date as not responsive to that request. This guidance recognized that the use of such an administrative mechanism is an important part of determining the exact group of records that are responsive to a FOIA request, and it advised all agencies to give "proper attention to this basic mechanism for determining a FOIA request's full scope at the outset of their handling of each request [so that they] can they be confident that they are consistently, and thus properly, administering the Act." FOIA Post, "Use of 'Cut-Off' Dates for FOIA Searches" (posted 5/6/04). Among the different "cut-off" dates that have been used by agencies in the past, OIP strongly urged agencies to use a date-of-search cut-off (i.e., the time that a search begins) and to do so consistently and evenhandedly. Further, OIP's policy guidance emphasized the importance of giving all FOIA requesters notice of the "cut-off" date that is being used -- in the form of actual notice in case-by-case correspondence or alternatively in regulations and/or through an agency's FOIA Reference Guide on its FOIA Web site -- lest there be any misunderstanding on this point between an agency and a FOIA requester.

A third major policy area addressed, one that derived directly from questions recently posed at OIP's governmentwide FOIA-training programs, pertained to the subject of the translation of records under the FOIA. OIP issued policy guidance that analyzed this subject according to three distinct stages of FOIA administration: (1) determining the universe of records that are responsive to a request; (2) considering the applicability of FOIA exemptions to those records; and (3) providing nonexempt records or record portions to the requester. As to this first stage of FOIA administration, OIP advised that this is "a stage of FOIA request handling in which an agency owes a strong obligation to FOIA requesters," FOIA Post, "The Limits of Agency Translation Obligations Under the FOIA" (posted 12/1/04), and that record translation ordinarily will be required where necessary to determine the responsiveness of a record's foreign-language contents. As for the second stage, this guidance pointed out that undertaking record translation in order to determine exemption applicability "is not for the requester's benefit, it is for the agency's" -- so "[a]s a general rule, the best choice for agencies is to bear the translation burden here, to undertake whatever amount of translation is necessary for a proper judgment to be reached regarding record sensitivity and for exemptions to be applied, or not, accordingly." Id. Lastly, as to the stage of FOIA administration at which responsive, nonexempt records are provided to a requester, OIP advised that agencies have no translation obligation: "[A]s a sound general rule, FOIA requesters who seek access to records that do not exist in a language known to them (in some cases even including computer languages) must make their own arrangements for any translation that they might require." Id.

Additionally, during 2004, OIP provided policy guidance also on such subjects as the proper treatment of unit prices under the FOIA pending further case law development, see FOIA Post, "Full Court Review Sought in McDonnell Douglas Unit Price Case" (posted 10/7/04); the protection of critical infrastructure information under an Exemption 3 statute enacted as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, 6 U.S.C.A. § 133 (West Supp. 2004), see FOIA Post, "Critical Infrastructure Information Regulations Issued by DHS" (posted 2/27/04); the critical distinction between "protecting information from public disclosure," such as under a FOIA exemption, and "the safeguarding of" information, id.; the uniform handling of FOIA requests for "mug shot" photographs under current case law, see Freedom of Information Act Guide & Privacy Act Overview (May 2004), at 580-81 & nn.47-51; the proper protection of records that are exchanged by the government and other parties during the processes of negotiating the settlement of claims, pursuant to the settlement-negotiation privilege, see id. at 420-21 & nn.283-86; and the legal basis and circumstances of the use of contractors or contract employees for purposes of FOIA administration, see FOIA Post, "The Use of Contractors in FOIA Administration" (posted 9/30/04).

(c) FOIA Post

In 2004, the Department of Justice completed its third full year of publishing FOIA Post, its more high-tech and cost-efficient replacement for its longtime FOIA Update newsletter. FOIA Post now serves as the primary means of FOIA policy dissemination and as a highly efficient vehicle for communicating with agency FOIA personnel and others who are interested in the Act's administration. It includes the same types of FOIA guidance and information features that were disseminated in paper form through FOIA Update, as well as additional FOIA-related features, and it does so in a more efficient electronic form that also makes very effective use of electronic links to referenced documents and other sources of information in a Web-based format. This evolution to Web-based information dissemination for the FOIA not only takes advantage of the cost-efficiencies of electronic communication, it also is in keeping with the Act's growing emphasis on the disclosure of agency information to the public electronically, through use of the World Wide Web, under the provisions of the Electronic FOIA amendments. Just as individual agency FOIA Web sites have become a vital means by which the FOIA is administered at all federal agencies, all agencies now look to the Justice Department's FOIA Web site for the most recent postings of information on matters of governmentwide FOIA administration. The Department emphasizes this point in all of its FOIA-training programs, and it recommends that this part of its FOIA Web site ( be electronically bookmarked by all agency FOIA personnel and others interested in the Act for this purpose. The response to readily accessing FOIA Post in this fashion has been very positive, from both government and nongovernment users alike, and it has grown to be a mainstay of governmentwide FOIA administration.

During 2004, OIP disseminated a variety of different items for the guidance of federal agencies through FOIA Post. In addition to the several items of substantive policy guidance discussed above, OIP used this electronic publication portal to distribute, on a quarterly basis throughout the year, newly prepared summaries of all current FOIA decisions received by OIP. See, e.g., FOIA Post, "New FOIA Decisions, January-March 2004" (posted 4/2/04). Near the beginning of the year, OIP also prepared and published its final installment in a series of retrospective compilations of such case summaries for years prior to FOIA Post's inauguration. See FOIA Post, "Compiled FOIA Decisions (Pre-1989)" (posted 1/28/04). Its plans to consolidate all such case summaries for years prior to 2004 into a single, keyword-searchable case compilation, together with the development of broad-based keyword search capability for FOIA Post overall, have necessarily been placed on hold pending completion of the delayed redesign and implementation of a new World Wide Web site configuration for the Justice Department as a whole.

Another major guidance tool disseminated through FOIA Post during 2004 was OIP's summary compilation of the information contained in the annual FOIA reports that are prepared by all federal departments and agencies in accordance with the amended annual reporting requirements of the Act. Although the Electronic FOIA amendments do not require that it do so, OIP initiated the practice of compiling aggregate summaries of all agencies' annual FOIA report data as soon as those reports are filed by all agencies each year. In 2004, OIP prepared summaries of agency reports covering Fiscal Year 2003 (the submission deadline for which was February 1, 2004) and in conjunction with this also emphasized the importance of all agencies heeding the Act's requirements for the completion of their annual FOIA reports in a timely fashion. See FOIA Post, "Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for Fiscal Year 2003" (posted 7/29/04).

Through FOIA Post, OIP also provided governmentwide notification of FOIA training opportunities during the year, including scheduling updates necessitated by changed circumstances; it disseminated training materials in electronic form; and it notified agency FOIA personnel of the procedures to be followed in ordering OIP's principal FOIA reference volume. Also published in FOIA Post during 2004 was a detailed description of the history of freedom of information and of the relatively recent worldwide proliferation of it (or "government transparency," as it most often is referred to overseas), through openness-in-government regimes adopted in a total of more than fifty-five nations -- which OIP prepared as the United States' participation in the new worldwide celebration of "International Right-to-Know Day" on September 28. See FOIA Post, "World Now Celebrates 'International Right-to-Know Day'" (posted 9/28/04).

Lastly, during 2004, OIP further expanded its use of a FOIA Post feature through which it regularly disseminates descriptions of Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act-related positions that are available at federal agencies, in an effort to facilitate the hiring of highly qualified attorneys and access professionals to work in the FOIA and Privacy Act areas throughout the federal government. See, e.g., FOIA Post, "FOIA/Privacy Act Positions Available at Federal Agencies" (posted 2/19/04). A total of twenty-five such FOIA-related employment openings were publicized through sixteen such postings during the year.

(d) Additional FOIA Reference Materials

In 2004, OIP completed a major updating of its principal FOIA reference volume -- which primarily contains the "Justice Department Guide to the Freedom of Information Act," an extensive discussion of the FOIA's many exemptions and procedural aspects. Entitled the Freedom of Information Act Guide & Privacy Act Overview, this reference volume also contains an overview discussion of the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974 that is prepared by OIP in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget, as well as the texts of both access statutes. It is published biennially, in even-numbered years. See FOIA Post, "New FOIA Guide & Privacy Act Overview to Be Published in May" (posted 1/23/04).

The "Justice Department Guide to the Freedom of Information Act" was updated and expanded to 885 pages in length in 2004, in an improved font style, and it made comprehensive use of electronic citations in lieu of citations to slip opinions for more convenient reference purposes. This was the twentieth edition of the "Justice Department Guide to the FOIA" published by OIP. For this revised edition of the "FOIA Guide," OIP among other things incorporated all recent developments regarding homeland security matters, made major revisions to the Fees and Fee Waiver Section, added a new subsection to the Exemption 2 Section, and entirely restructured the Attorney Fees and Litigation Costs subsection of the Litigation Considerations Section.

OIP distributed courtesy copies of the 2004 Freedom of Information Act Guide & Privacy Act Overview to each federal agency, to various congressional offices, and to other interested parties. It also facilitated this reference volume's wide distribution within the executive branch at a very low per-copy cost, see FOIA Post, "'Rider' Letter to Be Used by Agencies for Guide & Overview" (posted 3/4/04), and made it available without cost through the Department of Justice's FOIA-training programs. Additional copies of the Guide & Overview were made available to agencies and to the public through the Government Printing Office at a cost of $65 per copy. OIP also placed the major component parts of the Guide & Overview on the Justice Department's FOIA Web site (where they can be viewed and keyword-searched) to afford electronic access to them as well.

Also made available on the Department's FOIA Web site during 2004 was the "Department of Justice Freedom of Information Act Reference Guide," which was developed in accordance with the Electronic FOIA amendments and is a model for the counterpart reference guides that are maintained by other federal agencies. This reference tool for potential FOIA requesters describes the procedural aspects of making a FOIA request, specifies the different types of records that are maintained by the Department of Justice's many components, and describes the types of records and information that are available to the public from the Department without the necessity of making a FOIA request. It consists of fourteen pages, plus five detailed attachments, and it contains much information that is readily adaptable for use by all other federal agencies in their own FOIA reference guides. Beyond its use by the Justice Department, other agencies, and the FOIA-requester community, this guide also was used by other nations of the world -- such as Argentina, Mexico, Japan, and the United Kingdom -- in their work on the implementation of their new Freedom of Information Act-like laws during the year.

In accordance with another provision of the Electronic FOIA amendments, 5 U.S.C. § 552(e)(3), the Justice Department in 2004 maintained "a single electronic access point" for the consolidated availability of the annual FOIA reports of all federal agencies. In furtherance of this (though not in all respects required by the Act), OIP receives a copy of each agency's annual FOIA report each year, reviews it for correctness and completeness, and then makes all such reports promptly available at its central electronic site. These annual FOIA reports, beginning with those for Fiscal Year 1998, are organized by the Justice Department and made readily accessible to the public on the Department's FOIA Web site. In close coordination with GAO, OIP in 2004 further enhanced its practice of reviewing all agencies' annual reports as they are sent to it for this electronic availability purpose, and then contacting individual agencies to discuss and resolve any identified question or discrepancy with them. It did so in accordance with a 2002 GAO report entitled "Update on Implementation of the 1996 Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments," which encouraged such discretionary OIP review activities and found that they "have resulted in improvements to both the quality of agencies' annual reports and on-line availability of information." Id. at 62. A follow-up GAO study published in 2004 likewise found improvements in agencies' annual reporting due to OIP's governmentwide review efforts. See "Update on Freedom of Information Act Implementation Status" (Feb. 2004), at 3. In this same vein, 2004 was the first year in which the many federal agencies affected by the major governmental reorganization brought about by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 submitted annual FOIA reports under this new organizational regime; they did so by following guidance that was prepared by OIP in 2003 for this purpose, and their reports were held to the standards of that guidance by OIP in 2004.

In 2004, OIP also worked together with the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Office of Management and Budget to publish an updated edition of a publication entitled "Your Right to Federal Records," the federal government's basic public information brochure on access to agency information. This joint publication of the Department of Justice and GSA, which is made available to the general public in brochure form through GSA's Federal Citizen Information Center, is designed to answer the basic questions of any person who is interested in exercising his or her statutory rights under the FOIA and/or the Privacy Act of 1974 to seek access to records maintained by any federal agency. Over the years, it consistently has been one of the Federal Citizen Information Center's most heavily requested brochures, and it also is made available to the public electronically through the Department's FOIA Web site. That reference tool, as well as many others, is listed in the Basic FOIA References Section of the "Justice Department Guide to the FOIA," as updated in 2004. See Freedom of Information Act Guide & Privacy Act Overview (May 2004), at 880-85.

For additional reference purposes, during 2004, all issues of FOIA Update for the years 1979-2000 were made available on the Justice Department's FOIA Web site, where they were fully accessible electronically -- and keyword searchable -- as an aid to ready research. Additionally, guidance items from FOIA Update (and now also from FOIA Post) were used in all Justice Department FOIA-training programs and were made available in paper form to students through such programs offered by the Graduate School of the United States Department of Agriculture and by the American Society of Access Professionals nationwide. Similarly, OIP made copies of the Freedom of Information Act Guide & Privacy Act Overview available to governmentwide training participants without cost through the Justice Department's FOIA-training programs, as well as to all representatives of foreign nations and other visitors who receive briefings at OIP's offices. Further, for the first time, the 2004 edition of the "FOIA Guide" now also has been published for even wider availability as a comprehensive FOIA resource on Westlaw, at 2004 WL 1859165.

Lastly, in 2004 OIP took the further step of placing the basic contents of its largest FOIA training manual, which it uses in its training program entitled "The Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act for Attorneys and Access Professionals," into a special compilation that can be viewed and downloaded in electronic form. See FOIA Post, "Basic FOIA Training Manual Now Available On-Line" (posted 11/26/04). This now enables all FOIA personnel governmentwide to benefit from these training and guidance materials on a regular basis and allows users of the Justice Department's FOIA Web site to conduct research on FOIA issues in a highly efficient fashion. Because this new compilation takes advantage of Web-based technology to include multiple links to additional reference materials within individual reference items, it permits the creation of comprehensive research packages on FOIA topics of interest, through the simple steps of linking and printing, with an efficiency and comprehensiveness never before possible.

(e) Training and Public Presentations

During 2004, OIP furnished speakers and workshop instructors for a variety of seminars, conferences, individual agency training sessions, public forums, and similar programs conducted to promote the proper administration of the FOIA within the executive branch and/or a greater understanding of the Act's administration outside the executive branch, including internationally. Seventeen professional staff members of OIP gave a total of 129 training presentations during the year, including at several training sessions designed to meet the specific FOIA-training needs of individual agencies. Such individualized training sessions were conducted for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Social Security Administration; for the Departments of the Interior, State, Health and Human Services, and of the Navy; and for several individual components of the Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. OIP training presentations also were made at the National Freedom of Information Coalition Annual Conference, at the annual Business Information Training Day program of the American Society of Access Professionals, and at a special Continuing Legal Education Seminar held by the Florida Bar Association in the Great Hall of the Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building.

Additionally, the co-directors of OIP gave a total of 96 presentations at a variety of FOIA-training programs and other forums for the discussion of government information policies and practices, including those held by the Brookings Institution, the National Academy of Public Administration, the Washington College of Law at American University, the Freedom Forum, the National Press Club, the Foreign Press Center, the American Society of Access Professionals, the Federal Geodetic Data Committee, the Council of Counsels to the Inspectors General, and the Army Judge Advocate General's School. They made key presentations at the International Conference of Information Commissioners; at the Mid-Winter Meeting of the American Bar Association; at the Annual Symposium, the Western Regional Training Conference, and the Summer Training Program of the American Society of Access Professionals; at the Nineteenth Annual Federal Dispute Resolution Conference; on the Federal News Radio program FEDtalk; at NASA's Annual FOIA Conference; at the Social Security Administration's Annual FOIA Conference; at the FBI's Annual Training Seminar; and at a conference conducted for the principal FOIA officers of the Department of Justice. During the year, one of OIP's co-directors also gave a luncheon presentation to the Radio and Television News Directors Association on the subject of government secrecy, most particularly regarding post-9/11 security concerns, and gave related interviews to print media in coordination with the Department's Office of Public Affairs.

In conjunction with the Justice Department's National Advocacy Center, OIP conducted a wide range of FOIA-training programs in 2004, ranging from half-day introductory sessions for non-FOIA personnel to advanced programs for highly experienced FOIA personnel. OIP's basic two-day training course, entitled "The Freedom of Information Act for Attorneys and Access Professionals," was conducted during 2004 in Columbia, South Carolina (the base location of the National Advocacy Center), and in Washington, D.C. as well. When unanticipated budgetary constraints at the National Advocacy Center suddenly posed difficulties for this basic training course, OIP made arrangements for it to be offered elsewhere instead. See FOIA Post, "Justice Department FOIA Course to Be Held in Albuquerque" (posted 9/20/04). It also promptly reacted to this development by both expanding the capacity of each such program offering through the inclusion of additional workshop sessions and establishing new scheduling protocols for this FOIA-training program.

OIP also conducted two sessions in 2004 of its "Freedom of Information Act Administrative Forum," a training program devoted almost entirely to administrative matters arising under the Act -- such matters as record-retrieval practices, multitrack queue usage, backlog management, affirmative disclosure, and automated record processing. Designed to serve also as a forum for the governmentwide exchange of ideas and information on all matters of FOIA administration, this program regularly brings together veteran FOIA processors from throughout the government and encourages them to share their experience in administering the Act on a daily basis. Also conducted twice in 2004 was OIP's "Advanced Freedom of Information Act Seminar," which featured presentations by the Director of the Freedom of Information Service Center of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and by the former Freedom of Information Act Coordinator of the National Security Archive on the administration of the FOIA from the perspectives of FOIA requesters. In 2004, these programs also contained a newly designed session addressing ongoing GAO review activities pertaining to the assessment of FOIA fees and the annual reporting requirements of the Electronic FOIA amendments.

In addition to its regular range of FOIA-training programs that are offered in conjunction with the Justice Department's National Advocacy Center, OIP also conducted a training seminar in 2004 that is designed for the access professional or agency official who needs only a periodic update on current FOIA case law and policy developments. Entitled the "FOIA Guide Seminar," it was conducted by OIP immediately after completion of the May 2004 edition of the "Justice Department Guide to the Freedom of Information Act," a special pre-publication copy of which was provided to all seminar attendees for immediate delivery to their agencies. This program, which is conducted on a biennial basis in conjunction with the "FOIA Guide's" publication, efficiently helps to meet the consistently high demand for FOIA training in the Washington, D.C. area. In 2004, OIP arranged to conduct this program in the main auditorium of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center Building, where more than 500 FOIA personnel, representing nearly all federal agencies, were able to attend. See FOIA Post, "FOIA Guide Seminar Scheduled for June 17" (posted 2/19/04).

Lastly, as is referenced above, OIP also held a FOIA Officers Conference for the principal FOIA officers of the Department of Justice during 2004, at which a variety of FOIA-related matters that are of particular significance to the Justice Department's forty components were reviewed and discussed. In so doing, it also served as a model for its ongoing efforts (continuing into the year 2005) to encourage other federal agencies to hold such agencywide gatherings and FOIA conferences on a regular basis. See FOIA Post, "FOIA Conferences Held by Growing Numbers of Agencies" (posted 2/22/05).

(f) Briefings and Interagency Coordination Activities

OIP conducted a number of general or specific FOIA briefings during 2004 for persons interested in the operation of the Act, such as representatives of foreign governments concerned with the implementation or potential adoption of their own government information access laws. OIP provided briefings and FOIA materials in more than twenty such sessions to representatives of such nations as Japan, Moldova, Thailand, Belarus, Bolivia, Azerbaijan, China, Venezuela, Argentina, Poland, Mexico, and Lithuania. It also provided such briefings to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information of Hungary, the Deputy Minister of Justice of Tajikistan, the Director of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and the cabinet minister for records management of the Republic of South Korea. Further, in coordination with the State Department, OIP's deputy director traveled to China to engage in several days of additional discussions of openness-in-government principles with both national and provincial officials there, and also traveled to Argentina to provide a week-long training session to assist that nation in the implementation of its new government openness regime. See FOIA Post, "World Now Celebrates 'International Right-to-Know Day'" (posted 9/28/04). In sum, 2004 saw the greatest volume of international briefing activity for OIP ever, reflecting the fast-growing "worldwide proliferation of government openness" in recent years. Id.

Additionally, in 2004 OIP conducted an editorial review of a FOIA-related article for publication in the American Bar Association's Administrative Law Review; it provided peer review of an article on government secrecy prepared by an ABA consultant; it participated in two debates for government and public audiences on the topic of homeland security secrecy; it hosted two interagency meetings on the subject of access to/removal of federal records by departing/departed federal officials; it provided a briefing to the staff of the House Judiciary Committee; it provided assistance to the Joint Committee on Taxation; it provided ombudsman assistance to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee; it provided a briefing for a representative of the Partners of the Americas, for an upcoming Summit of the Americas; it provided a policy briefing to representatives of the Society of Professional Journalists; it provided policy coordination regarding the protection of "mug shot" photographs for the United States Marshals Service; it hosted an interagency meeting on law enforcement-related FOIA issues; it provided consultation assistance to the interagency Law Enforcement Information Sharing Program; it hosted a meeting of the Department of Homeland Security's PCII Accreditation Working Group; it provided consultation assistance to the Global Information Assistance Advisory Committee; it participated on the Interagency Committee on Government Information's Web Content Management Working Group, provided consultation assistance to its Categorization of Information Working Group, and likewise provided consultation assistance to an OMB-sponsored working group on unit prices; it provided coordinated consultation assistance to NASA on FOIA-related issues arising from the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster and the related Webster Report; it attended several interagency meetings on information policy issues in support of the Department of Homeland Security and provided consultation assistance to it in connection with its FOIA-related regulations, its preparation of a FOIA-related report to Congress, and its planned implementation of executive orders issued in August 2004; it provided two senior attorneys to serve on emergency homeland security-related employment details during the year, one in the Department of Homeland Security and the other in a national security component of the Justice Department; it provided briefings both within the Department and to other agencies on matters pertaining to proposed legislation; and it provided briefings and other forms of assistance in support of GAO's FOIA-related activities during the year, including consultation assistance to the Deputy Administrator of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs regarding the processes of coordination with GAO. And in 2004 one of OIP's co-directors served on the Governance Board of the Business Gateway Initiative, a governmentwide "E-Government" program conducted under the auspices of OMB.

During 2004, OIP also engaged in other interagency coordination activities in FOIA-related areas. As an outgrowth of the FOIA Officers Conference that it conducted on the subject of homeland security in 2003, and to serve the need for continuing governmentwide coordination in this area of growing importance, OIP formed an interagency working group on homeland security-related FOIA issues that was very active during 2004. This newly created FOIA Officers Homeland Security Information Group (FOHSIG) is comprised of representatives of a dozen agencies who now gather regularly at meetings hosted by OIP to exchange information and discuss upcoming matters pertaining to homeland security-related information policies and practices. The FOHSIG met five times during 2004 and plans to meet quarterly in the future.

Another interagency coordination activity engaged in by OIP in 2004 was its efforts to coordinate governmentwide record-review activities by federal agencies under Section 586 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, Pub. L. No. 108-7, 117 Stat. 11, 215-16 (2003), concerning the murders of American churchwomen and other American citizens in El Salvador and Guatemala since December 1999. This law called upon all federal agencies to identify relevant classified records pertaining to the murders and to review them for possible declassification, consistent with existing nondisclosure standards, for release to the victims' families. Upon a delegation of authority from the President, and in turn on behalf of the Attorney General, OIP continued to serve as the principal coordination authority for the implementation of this statutory scheme, providing administrative and procedural guidance, throughout the executive branch.

(g) Congressional and Public Inquiries

In 2004, OIP responded to sixteen congressional inquiries pertaining to FOIA-related matters and, in its "FOIA Ombudsman" capacity, see FOIA Update, Vol. XIV, No. 3, at 8, it handled thirteen complaints received from members of the public who were concerned that an agency had failed to comply with the requirements of the Act. In all such instances involving a concern of agency noncompliance, the matter was discussed with the agency and, wherever appropriate, a recommendation was made regarding the steps needed to be taken by the agency in order to bring it into proper compliance. Additionally, OIP responded to more than one hundred written inquiries from members of the public seeking information regarding the basic operation of the Act or related matters during the year, as well as to innumerable such inquiries received by telephone. The number of written inquiries received during 2004 continued to be smaller than in previous years, largely due to the increased availability of information that is now accessible to the public through the Justice Department's FOIA Web site.

Go to: Table of Contents// OIP FOIA Page

Updated January 13, 2023