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FOIA Update: Attorney General Reno Institutes New FOIA-Related Performance Standards

FOIA Update
Vol. XVI, No. 3

Attorney General Reno Institutes New
FOIA-Related Performance Standards

As part of the Department of Justice's efforts to enhance its Freedom of Information Act operations and to reduce existing backlogs of FOIA requests, Attorney General Janet Reno has instituted the use of new work performance standards for all Department of Justice employees whose work supports the various aspects of FOIA administration in any way.

On August 28, Attorney General Reno issued a directive to all Department of Justice components calling for them to establish FOIA-related work performance standards as part of their regular performance-evaluation processes for "all employees who have any FOIA-related responsibilities so as to include an appropriate element for compliance with FOIA requirements."

This initiative is primarily designed to cover Department of Justice employees who may be regarded as "non-FOIA personnel," but whose cooperation is often essential to the completion of the FOIA's administrative process and whose lack of timely assistance could cause significant delays in complying with FOIA requests. Such personnel can include, for example, employees who participate in searches for records responsive to FOIA requests and employees who must coordinate with FOIA personnel in the determination of any record sensitivity from the standpoint of a particular agency program or activity.

Under this new rule, all components of the Department of Justice are required to have FOIA-related performance standards for all such employees, as well as for those engaged in FOIA work on a day-to-day basis, that place specific emphasis on the timeliness of their work in connection with all of their FOIA-related activities. To facilitate this, model work performance standards were prepared by the Department of Justice for a range of different job categories.

Previous FOIA Memoranda

This step by Attorney General Reno follows up on previous memoranda issued by her addressing the processes of FOIA administration and the importance of timely compliance with FOIA-related responsibilities on the parts of all agency employees. That subject, most specifically in connection with agency backlog- reduction efforts, was first addressed in both Attorney General Reno's FOIA Memorandum of October 4, 1993, and in the FOIA-policy memorandum that was issued by President Clinton at that same time. See Attorney General's Memorandum for Heads of Departments and Agencies regarding the Freedom of Information Act, reprinted in FOIA Update, Summer/Fall 1993, at 4-5; President's Memorandum for Heads of Departments and Agencies regarding the Freedom of Information Act, 29 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 1999 (Oct. 4, 1993), reprinted in FOIA Update, Summer/Fall 1993, at 3.

It also was emphasized in Attorney General Reno's follow-up memorandum of December 13, 1993, to the heads of Department of Justice components, in which she spoke of the importance of the "institutional attitude" that is held toward the FOIA throughout an agency, including by "the many Department employees on whom FOIA officers depend for timely assistance." FOIA Update, Summer/Fall 1993, at 5.

This personnel initiative is a significant part of the Justice Department's continuing efforts to reduce FOIA backlogs and to improve the timeliness of the handling of requests and records by the personnel involved at all stages of the FOIA's administrative process.

Praise from FOIA-Requester Community

Attorney General Reno's establishment of these work performance standards has drawn praise from the FOIA-requester community, most particularly from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which complimented the Justice Department's efforts in this regard and expressed the hope that they could serve as a model for other federal agencies as well.

Agencies interested in obtaining these new Department of Justice work performance standards for possible use for their FOIA-related personnel may do so either by contacting the Office of Information and Privacy or by going through interagency personnel-office channels.


Inside Update

OIP Guidance:   Determining the Scope of a FOIA Request

FOIA Counselor Q&A: Providing the "Best Copy Available" to Requesters

FOIA Focus

Go to: FOIA Update Home Page

Updated August 13, 2014