Agency FOIA Conferences
At this time of year, agencies have just completed their Annual FOIA Reports and are in the process of finalizing their Chief FOIA Officer Reports. Those two reports, which are submitted to the Department of Justice each year and are made public, serve as a key means by which each agency is held accountable for its compliance with the FOIA, as well as with the President's Memorandum on the FOIA and the Attorney General's FOIA Guidelines.
Completion of these reports serves another valuable function as well. They are valuable tools for agencies to use in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their own FOIA compliance and operations so that improvements can be made in the months and years ahead.
Both reports provide agencies with a wealth of information. Annual FOIA Reports contain details regarding the numbers of requests received and processed, as well as the disposition of those requests and the time taken to respond to them. Chief FOIA Officer Reports describe the steps agencies have taken to improve transparency in accordance with the President's and Attorney General's directives, including descriptions of efforts to increase efficiency, expand proactive disclosures, maximize use of technology, and reduce backlogs.
Together, these reports provide a valuable foundation for each agency to use in reviewing and assessing its own efforts to improve how they implement the FOIA. March is also the mid-point in the current fiscal year. So, this month is a particularly good time for all agencies to review how they are doing to date in Fiscal Year 2011, to make any necessary adjustments to their operations, to assess and prioritize their goals for the remainder of this year, and ensure that they are on track for closing out their ten oldest pending requests.
An agency FOIA conference is an ideal way in which to do all these things. At the Department of Justice, OIP is holding a DOJ FOIA Conference for all DOJ's FOIA professionals on March 24. OIP will include specialized training at the conference to address commonly occurring issues. OIP will also have break-out sessions for each component so that individualized discussions can occur.
Many agencies already have FOIA conferences scheduled for the next few weeks. These conferences can be informal discussion sessions or more formal events with training included. OIP is available to assist agencies with their conferences and can provide training on any aspect of the FOIA as well as on the new FOIA Guidelines. Whatever the format of the conference, OIP encourages all agencies to consider hosting FOIA conferences with their own FOIA professionals in the upcoming weeks. Such conferences can provide a helpful, meaningful way for agencies to work internally to improve their compliance with the FOIA and to increase transparency overall. This, in turn, will be the foundation of what is reported next year in each agency's Annual FOIA Report and Chief FOIA Officer Report.