DOJ’s August Best Practices Workshop Focuses on Backlog Reduction

September 27, 2018

New best practices and strategies in managing FOIA backlogs that were shared at the recent Best Practices Workshop are now available on OIP’s Best Practices Workshop Series page.

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 approaches on a wide range of FOIA issues.

As the fiscal year wraps up, OIP has updated its Best Practices Workshop page with a description of our most recent workshop held on August 21, 2018.  Agency personnel from across the government joined us for a panel discussion on backlog reduction efforts.  Moderated by Director Melanie Ann Pustay, the panel included Eric Stein, Director of the Office of Information Programs and Services at the Department of State, and Joseph Schaaf, Senior Attorney-Advisor and Chief Counsel for Administrative Law at DOJ’s Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR). 

During the event, the panelists discussed their unique efforts in controlling backlogs in light of ever-increasing demand.  Mr. Stein detailed the State Department’s FOIA Surge Initiative, which was established in September 2017 to eliminate a substantial portion of State’s FOIA backlog.  During the Surge Initiative, the State Department acquired new resources and developed new plans and processes to significantly reduce its backlog in the short-term, while also planning for the long-term success of the program once the initiative was completed.  The initiative provided the State Department with many lessons learned which were shared with the audience.    

EOIR receives a significant portion of the requests made to the Department of Justice and the significant increases in incoming requests that it has experienced has made backlog reduction even more challenging.  Between 2010 and 2014, EOIR received about 20,000 requests a year.  Last fiscal year, EOIR saw over double that with 43,459 requests received.  Mr. Schaaf discussed a number of best practices EOIR has implemented to control its backlog in light of this demand, as well as future plans to further improve efficiencies. 

Some notable examples of the best practices shared at the event include:

  • Trying new approaches – agencies should not be afraid to try new approaches and honestly assesses what works and doesn’t work.
  • Identifying and focusing on your core needs.
  • Developing an agile process that can account for the unexpected.
  • Developing strong intake processes.
  • Communicating regularly both within the agency and with requesters. Getting buy-in from agency staff.
  • Implementing robust training for FOIA professionals.
  • Leveraging technology to the extent possible.

A list of all the best practices discussed during this series and related OIP guidance can be found on the Best Practices Workshop Series page of OIP's website. 

The Best Practices Workshop series will continue and OIP is currently developing the topics for the next slate of events in this series.  We invite you to suggest discussion topics for these upcoming events, and you can e-mail your suggestions for new workshop topics to DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov(link sends e-mail) using the subject line "Agency Best Practices Workshop Suggestion."

Topic(s): 
FOIA

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Updated September 27, 2018