Best Practices Workshops Continue with Discussions on Small Agencies and Backlog Reduction

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.

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Updated February 9, 2016