As agencies approach the last two months of the fiscal year, FOIA professionals are doing all that they can to keep up the pace and to close as many FOIA requests and appeals as possible by September 30th. Heading into the home stretch of the fiscal year agencies are working with requesters, completing records searches, and reviewing records for disclosure, as part of their efforts to close out this fiscal year as strongly as possible. While there might not be a gold medal and cheering fans, or the national anthem playing in the background when we end the fiscal year, there will still be the satisfaction of knowing that all our efforts in implementing the FOIA form a key part of how our country works.
During these last few months of the fiscal year it is critical that agencies not only work to close pending FOIA requests and administrative appeals, but that they also focus on closing the oldest of those pending requests and appeals. Both the President and the Attorney General have stressed the importance of timely disclosure of information. In his FOIA Guidelines, the Attorney General declared that "timely disclosure of information is an essential component of transparency" and that "[l]ong delays should not be viewed as an inevitable and insurmountable consequence of high demand." Building on that directive, our office has put a particular focus on the need for agencies to close their oldest pending requests and appeals. After the close of Sunshine Week, OIP issued guidance
to all agencies asking that they set a goal of closing their ten oldest pending requests and appeals each year.
Most recently, the Acting Associate Attorney General, who also serves as the Department of Justice's Chief FOIA Officer, together with the Counsel to the President, sent a memorandum to Agency General Counsels and agency Chief FOIA Officers emphasizing that over the past three years agencies "have disclosed more, withheld less, processed requests faster, reduced backlogs, improved [their] FOIA infrastructure, and not least of all provided the public with voluminous information proactively." They then specifically asked agency General Counsels and Chief FOIA Officers to focus on resolving their agencies' oldest requests.
"To further ensure that FOIA is administered in a way consistent with the President's Memorandum and that agencies provide timely response to FOIA requests, we request that you review your oldest pending FOIA requests, and take affirmative steps to resolve them."
This latest memorandum is designed to build on the momentum already established by agencies and to ensure that as the fiscal year ends, agencies continue to focus on closing their oldest requests. We believe that with sustained focus on the discrete goal of closing the oldest of the pending FOIA requests and administrative appeals at each agency, we can achieve a systemic improvement in a key area of FOIA administration.
You can read the full text of this new memorandum, along with our guidance to agencies on closing their oldest pending requests, on the OIP Guidance page of our site.